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Fierce Fighters: Triumph and Hope from Our Fierce Breast Cancer Survivors

Fierce Fighters: Triumph and Hope from Our Fierce Breast Cancer Survivors

Every year, millions of women are diagnosed with breast cancer. Many battle through their diagnosis and treatment to survive the disease. Several of the 2023 Fierce Award winners not only survived their bouts with breast cancer, but they chose to thrive. 

 by Celia Goodyear


Kayla Turner is a property manager for Contemporary Management. Discovered through early detection, her breast cancer diagnosis came when she was just 30 years old.  


“When I first heard the words at 30 years old ‘you have cancer’ I crumbled. I crawled into bed and sobbed with my husband, Corey, for hours. Once no more tears were left, I got out of bed and told myself it was time to fight. Head down, eyes forward. While I have always had a strong mindset, I am only so strong on my own. My faith in Jesus is a huge part of my life and quite honestly, it is this faith that sustained me through my journey,” she said.

“I was diagnosed with triple negative invasive carcinoma, which is an aggressive form of breast cancer and difficult to treat. By a miracle, my 6 cm tumor had stayed localized in my left breast and did not spread to any lymph nodes.

My treatment consisted of 16 rounds of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, 25 radiation treatments and over a year of oral chemotherapy. To keep it simple, I believe some of the key factors that got me through this time were staying active, eating a produce-filled, organic diet, removing as many toxins from my home and life and prayer.” 



Brande Smith is the senior counsel for the University of Florida. She was diagnosed with breast cancer during a very difficult time in her life but chose to use it as a wake-up call.  


“I was at the beginning of my separation with my now ex-husband,” said Smith. “We had been together for 28 years when I was diagnosed. I think for me it was just about turning a negative into a positive. I did not have a genetic predisposition for the disease. I was in the best shape of my life, but I had the stress of an unhappy marriage. It was a wake-up call that I needed to take care of myself and feel good about my decision.

“I caught the cancer early. It was the size of a pea and on my right breast,” she said. “It was the farthest away from my heart that it could be. I had a partial mastectomy. I had no pain after my surgery. It went as well as it could. After the surgery, I did a brand-new type of radiation that was very targeted. Then I took medication.” 



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Jennifer Lester is a partner at Avery & Smith, a civil litigation firm. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. Her cancer, too, was found early and she used it as a way to trust her gut and choose the treatment essential for her. 


“I trusted my instincts and chose the therapeutic course that felt right to me.  That meant I had to fire one surgeon and engage a new team.  The first surgeon did not want to do a double mastectomy, when I felt that was necessary. After the surgery, the pathology report showed microscopic cancer cells throughout the tissue, so had I not had the mastectomy I felt I needed, I would have ended up without clear margins and a need for more surgeries and more invasive treatment,” said Lester.

“Breast cancer is an epidemic. At any one time, it seems that I have at least one friend going through it. I share as much of my experience as they want to hear, and as much of my research as they want, so they can choose their paths. Trust your instincts. Get the right care team. Let others help you.” 


These three survivors were honored as 2023 FIERCE Award winners for their inspirational journeys and their positive impact on the Greater Gainesville community. Their endurance through breast cancer is but just one of the many ways that they are FIERCE.  



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