Beauty Pageant Winner With Stage IV Breast Cancer Uses Platform to Raise Awareness

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Sarah White is using her title of Miss West Virginia to try to pass legislation that will help improve medical treatment for others with breast cancer. (Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Holbrook White/Facebook)
Sarah White is using her title of Mrs. West Virginia to try to pass legislation that will help improve medical treatment for others with breast cancer. (Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Holbrook White/Facebook)

Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis can be undeniably traumatic. But Sarah White, a special-education teacher in West Virginia, refuses to let her affliction distinguish her spirit. In October 2015, after being diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer — which had metastasized to her chest wall, spine, and lungs — White did what most people would probably never do: She entered the Miss All-Star United States Pageant, according to Fox News. And she won.

White now holds the title of Mrs. West Virginia, and last month, she competed for the national title. Although she’s fulfilling her childhood dreams, that’s certainly not White’s only motivation for becoming a beauty queen at age 36.

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For one, White wants to set an example for her two children — one of whom she gave birth to just six months before her diagnosis. “I’m trying to teach my kids that no matter what happens — good and bad things happen, there are winners and losers, people get cancer, other people don’t get cancer — it’s a part of life,” White told FoxNews.com “I’m hoping that by being the way I am that I’m teaching my children to be strong.” White first battled (and beat) breast cancer in 2013.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Holbrook White/Facebook.
Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Holbrook White/Facebook.

Another reason for White’s foray into pageantry is simply to boost her self-esteem. She knows that when you look good, you feel good — in fact, White actually volunteers monthly for the American Cancer Society’s program “Look Good Feel Better.” There she teaches beauty techniques, such as drawing on eyebrows and tying scarves, to other cancer patients. It seems her confidence is contagious too. “I show up [to the volunteer program] with my wig and I take it off. When I show them that, the relief on their faces is unbelievable,” she told Fox News.

Of course, White is only human, and when she first received her diagnosis in October, she admits that she “fell into a funk,” and understandably so. White is battling “triple-negative” breast cancer, which tends to be more aggressive than other types of breast cancer and yield lower survival rates, according to Breastcancer.org. Triple-negative breast cancer is also higher grade than other types of cancer — meaning there are more cancer cells present — and doesn’t respond to commonly used hormonal chemotherapy.

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About 10 percent to 20 percent of breast cancer patients get a triple-negative diagnosis. But White doesn’t want to hear about numbers. When her doctor told her told her last year that if her chemo stopped working she’d have two to five years to live, she refused to let the prognosis define her. “[The doctor] put me as a statistic, and I am not a statistic. I am a person,” White told Fox News.

And it seems her confidence has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. White participates in a clinical trial, in which she receives a drug (not a placebo) that isolates and kills cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact. So far, her body has been responding incredibly. “We saw near-complete disappearance of her lesions in the bone and lung and chest wall. It’s really working for her now,” said Jame Abraham, MD, director of the breast oncology program at the Cleveland Clinic and White’s doctor, according to FoxNews.com.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Holbrook White/Facebook
Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Holbrook White/Facebook

White is well aware that her pageant title gives her the platform to spread awareness about and educate people fighting breast cancer — and that’s the point. “One of the reasons I did the pageant was obviously to have something to focus on, but another reason is if I was standing on the street without a sash and without a crown talking about self-checking and breast cancer awareness or whatever, I might get two people who might listen to me, maybe five,” she told Fox News. “But if I have a sash on … you get a following, and people will listen.”

White is using her platform to promote proposed legislation in West Virginia to improve the standard of care for patients with aggressive forms of breast cancer, increase mammogram coverage for women who are at high risk, and to prevent minors from using tanning beds.

Though beautiful on the outside, White’s incredible determination and inner beauty undoubtedly helped her earn her title of Mrs. West Virginia. “She truly does not let her illness hold her back or stop her,” said Tammy Johns, national director of the Miss All-Star United States Pageant, to Fox News. “She graced the stage with poise and elegance. Sarah’s attitude and endurance is wonderful — a true queen.”

However far White’s newfound beauty pageant career leads her, though, she knows that her spirit makes her a winner — and an inspiration. “I don’t have to lay down and die,” she said of her diagnosis, according to FoxNews.com. “I could walk into the Cleveland Clinic and wear my PJs, and I’d look like death and feel like death, or I could put on a wig and my jeans and my Michael Kors sandals and lipstick.”

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