She gained national notoriety when she walked 1,000 miles, topless, from Biloxi to the nation’s capital. On Tuesday, Paulette Leaphart had her day in her native Biloxi.
She and her daughters came dressed in yellow rather than pink.
“Yellow is the new pink” representing health and healing, she said. Her mission is a cure for cancer and to make lemonade out of the lemons cancer victims are given.
After surviving stage 2 cancer and a double mastectomy in 2014, Leaphart learned she wasn’t eligible for reconstructive surgery. She came to Biloxi for a vacation with her daughters after eight months of treatment and recalls sitting on the beach depressed.
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“I lost everything fighting cancer,” she said — her breasts, her home, her car. Many times it was a choice between buying food and buying medicine that cost thousands of dollars each week, she said.
In a daring move, she removed her shirt, which drew a lot of stares on the beach that Labor Day weekend.
“It was a vision God gave to me,” she said, calling it “such a spiritual moment.”
When people realized what was happening, she said some were crying and then they all applauded her courage. It also was her start to Washington.
She hadn’t known what her body would look like after a double mastectomy. Her daughter, Alexis, encouraged her to go to Facebook and post photographs from the beach to help save the lives of other women facing the same challenge. Within 30 minutes of hitting social media, the photos went viral.
“That’s when I knew God’s purpose for my life,” Leaphart said. He gave her the vision to walk 1,000 miles, she said, and it just happens to be 1,000 miles from the Gulf Coast to D.C.
I made a vow that I was going to spend the rest of my life fighting for a cure.
Paulette Leaphart, Biloxi native and cancer survivor
Leaphart, mother of five girls and three boys, left April 30, pushing her 8-year-old daughter, Madeline, along with her in a stroller. The goal was to make it to the steps of the U.S. Capitol by June 27 — her 50th birthday.
“That milestone birthday was important for many reasons,” she said.
Along the way, she met and befriended many women facing breast cancer. The disease kills 60,000 women a year, she said, 40,000 of them black women. She knew nine who died, all younger than 50.
Leaphart said she spent days meeting with members of Congress and wrote a cancer-cure bill so no American is left out and no American will die because they can’t afford to stay alive.
She is now cancer-free and a film crew making a documentary of her journey followed her to Biloxi.
Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich declared Tuesday “Paulette Leaphart Day” in Biloxi in honor of a woman whose journey continues.
“I made a vow that I was going to spend the rest of my life fighting for a cure,” she said.