Nov 032012
 

By David Smallwood & Jan Emanuel-Costley

Like pioneering Black motorcyclist Bessie Stringfield traveled cross-country delivering classified documents for the Army during World War II, Jan Emanuel-Costley today rides the nation’s roads on her Harley to raise money for breast cancer research.

For three years, Jan, who goes by her road name “Sunny The Diva,” has spearheaded annual motorcycle fundraising treks with fellow lady biking enthusiasts for her non-profit organization, Divas For A Cure “DFAC” (www.divasforacure.org).

The three rides have covered over 25,000 miles and raised $123,200 for M.D. Anderson Cancer Research Center in Houston, Texas.  Harley-Davidson, the leading name in the motorcycle world, was the primary sponsor of the rides.

Stringfield, the first Black woman to ride across America on a motorcycle, was 16 when she learned to ride, as was Emanuel, in Oakland, where she grew up.

At 16, Emanuel was also diagnosed with a small cancerous cyst on her head that was removed, but returned later when she was 18, along with ear and jaw pain, and was removed again.

At 22, Sunny found the lump between her armpit and breast, but the doctor at the hospital she called said not to worry, she was too young to have cancer and wait to have it checked out at her next gynecology appointment.

After three months of pain, the lymph node area got inflamed and tender to the touch and when she called again, she says they said, oh, that’s definitely not cancer because cancer doesn’t hurt, and by the time cancer hurts, you’re almost dead.

“I was at work, but decided to just go to the emergency room anyway,” says Emanuel.  “The doctor said I needed to schedule a mammogram immediately.  The look on his face was tragic.

“After the mammogram he walked in and said you have breast cancer and we need to schedule you for a mastectomy.  His bedside manner left a lot to be desired.  I told him I was only 22, I came in the world with two breasts and I’m going to leave the world with two breasts, and you better figure out how to do it.”

Emanuel joined a study using newly developed laser techniques in conjunction with her hospital. The treatment worked, her breast was saved, and she hasn’t had a problem with it since.

Sunny The DivaBut Sunny, now 51 and married with four adult children, says her positive outcome was a result of early detection and her persistence that something was wrong.

“According to statistics, White women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, while minority women are more likely to die,” Sunny says.  “Black women normally take too long to do follow-up, to get tested, don’t have adequate medical insurance, and we’re not educated.  We’re definitely not pro-active and it’s still a hush-hush kind of disease.”

When Emanuel turned 28, she went into cardiac arrest and had a stroke.  An aunt, Mary Clemons, who was also her godmother and with whom she lived for part of her adolescent life, was her caregiver during this period.

Sunny says, “My aunt came over and took care of me, changed my bandages, helped me use the bathroom, nursed me back to health, cooked, helped me with the kids, made sure I went for my checkups –– the whole nine yards –– but never once did she say she was sick herself.  When she finally told us something was wrong, she was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer.

“The doctors said the cancer she had was 95 percent curable had she caught it early, but it had advanced from her breast to her arm into her neck and into her brain.”

Jan was in the room with her aunt when she died.

“It was such a life-altering experience,” she recalls. “At around the same time, someone dared me to ride my motorcycle across country.  I said, not only will I ride across the country, I’ll get some other women to ride with me to raise money and we’ll donate it to a cancer foundation for research in my aunt’s name.”

A Room at MD Anderson Cancer Research Center dedicated in the name of Divas For A CureEmanuel says she picked the M.D. Anderson Cancer Research Center in Houston, Texas to receive donations because they are leaders in cancer research (currently ranked number one in the nation) and in treating minorities, especially African American women.  M.D. Anderson graciously agreed to name an exam room in its breast cancer center in honor of Divas For A Cure.

Emanuel in 1999 started her website, www.RealDivasRide.com, as an online motorcycle forum for women interested in the activity.  That site spawned www.DivasForACure.org, which provides information on the annual rides.

Because she rides a Harley, Sunny approached the company to ask for their support, and they obliged. (On her website there’s a section titled “Why A Harley?” followed by a one-sentence answer, “If I have to explain it, you wouldn’t understand.”)

“We’re very excited about supporting their ride for the third year and supporting their initiatives to increase awareness and prevention of breast cancer; it’s a tremendous cause for us,” says Harley-Davidson spokesperson Karina Jaramillo. “We facilitate our relationship between the divas and many of our local dealers so they can come out to different dealerships during the course of their ride and do fundraising activities.”

A small group of women are selected to ride in the event each year.  The inaugural ride in 2006 was 8,600 miles from San Francisco to New York and back in 22 days. Eight divas started, and Sunny was the only one who finished, but $25,000 was raised.

“I quickly found out you should limit cross-country riding to just a few divas,” Sunny says.  “Anybody who calls themselves a Diva is going to probably have a personality, so with eight divas, there were some conflicts. Mix hot weather, motorcycles and long distances, and it becomes volatile, especially over 22 days.”

She repeated the event in 2007 to prove that the initial success was not a fluke.  This ride, with five divas, went 7,300 miles from Oakland to Maryland and back, and raised $50,000.

The 2008 ride  was 6,000 miles from New Jersey, down to Atlanta, up to Canada and back, and raised $35,000.  There were only four divas riding this time – Costley, the organization’s vice president AJ Coffee, Cynthia Marcy, and Elaine Thomas.

“It’s a very hard ride,” Sunny explains.  “Most people when they sign up think of a nice little leisurely cross-country tour – make stops, take pictures, shop.  It’s not like that.  After riding all day, all you’re looking for is a shower and pillow at Motel 6, Motel 4, even Motel 2 – you don’t care at that point!” she says.

USBCF, NJBSMC & the Motorcycle Community united in the effort.

The divas ride almost 500 miles a day, between 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. to avoid nighttime riding hazards, and have to keep to a strict timetable to honor their Harley-Davidson dealership appearances.

They are accompanied by members of the Buffalo Soldiers motorcycle club –– Sunny is married to the former national president of the organization, Thomas Costley –– and they are followed by a support van that carries their clothes, supplies, and food.

“People sign up to ride with us for a leg or two and they pay a registration fee, but after a (short) while, they’re like, ‘this is crazy, this ain’t no fun! All we’re doing is riding and sleeping!’  But I say, ‘And raising money!’  That’s the important thing,” Emanuel says.

It is very taxing on the body and finances to maintain an annual cross-country motorcycle trek, so in 2010 Emanuel and Divas For A Cure took some time off from the annual breast cancer run to recoup and reorganize.

Barb’s Harley-Davidson is a woman-owned dealership in Mt. Ephraim, NJ.  Barb and her staff actively support the community on all fronts. They were diligent in their efforts to help support Divas For A Cure and in 2010 took up the helm to support them on a local level.

In 2010, Barb kicked-off the First Annual Barb’s Harley-Davidson Divas For A Cure Breast Cancer Ride to help continue the efforts.

Sue, KC, Sunny & Cindy

It is with the united efforts of Barb, her staff and the motorcycle community that DFAC can continue to make a difference.

In 2011, Sunny found another lump, so without hesitation she sought medial advice from a Breast Surgeon.  The surgeon determined that a lumpectomy would be necessary. Her advice was simple. Let’s not fool around with this. The surgery was slightly delayed due to a pre-existing heart condition.  The surgeon removed four growths and surrounding tissue.  The pathology report came back – “all margins clear.”

Jan Emanuel-Costley aka Sunny The Diva

The surgery was a success and Emanuel was back on her iron horse in no time.

 

Big RedAnd yes, it’s 2012 and she is still rolling.   Emanuel averages about 7 – 10,000 miles a year on her iron horse.

 

So, if a woman on a bright red Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic with pink bling on her helmet passed you on the highway – it was probably “The Diva.”

 

Barb’s H-D & Divas For A Cure Breast Cancer Ride

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Aug 192012
 

Barb's H-D & Divas For a Cure Breast Cancer Ride

 

Join Barb’s H-D and Divas For A Cure as we ride to the Pic-A-Lilly Inn in Shamong, NJ for Breast Cancer Research. Registration at Barb’s H-D from 10am to 12om.  Registration Fee is $25.  Free patch to the first 200 riders.

Ride leaves at 12:30pm and ends at the Pic-A-Lilly Inn, Shamong, NJ for a buffet lunch (included with registration fee.)  Divas For A Cure is dedicated to promoting early detection, education, screenings and supporting research organizations to continue the quest to, one day, find a cure ad eradicate cancers of all kinds.

2012 Solo Ride

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May 312012
 

Three years in a row, I road across country with a group of women and men raising money for Breast Cancer Research and promoting Early Detection.  Each year, I also do a local Breast Cancer Ride from Barb’s H-D to continue our efforts to promote Early Detection and support the cure in our community.

This year I decided to take a “Solo Ride” just for me.   Sometimes, you’ve just have to step out on “Faith!”  My scheduled journey would take me through New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

 

 

Sunny The Diva

 

On Friday April 27th, I departed New Jersey headed for my 1st stop (Northern Virginia Buffalo Soldiers Annual).  My husband (TC Costley) road with me to Virginia.  For the first time, I was leading the way and I was a bundle of nerves but TC insisted that I had to do it all the way.  Well, you can’t wear the title “The Diva” and not rise to the challenge.  So, off I go on my “Little Red Bike with White Walls with TC’s trailer in tow.”

Before getting on the road, TC gave me a real lesson on safety checks, tire pressure, trailer tire pressure and how to change the tire.

We sat down and reviewed the map of my route. TC insisted I become familiar with reading a map and paying attention to road signs and mile markers.  He reminded me of the miles of road I had already traveled and assured me that I could do it and that he was very confident in my riding skills.

I had my motorcycle serviced at Barb’s Harley-Davidson where I know they take good care of their customers, so I knew my horse was ready and now so was I.

TC & SunnyWe arrived in Virginia on Friday afternoon and fellowship with a few friends in the motorcycle community.  We went to the NoVBSMC Annual Barb-B-Que and as always we were in good company with old friends.  This is where TC and I parted ways.   He said our goodbyes and headed back to New Jersey.  I was truly on my own and there was no turning back for me at this point!  I would spend another night in Virginia to attend the dance with the soldiers and then depart Sunday morning on my own.  I can’t imagine what he was thinking on his ride home but I could not sleep from the anxiety of beginning this journey alone.

Well, 5:00 AM  Sunday morning came way too soon!  It had rained the night before and the ground was still wet and the fog made the sky hazy and cold.  I was prepared for every riding condition but hoped not to have to use any rain gear.  I dressed in three layers of clothing, put on my reflective water proof jacket, heavy jeans and waterproof over-pants.  I loaded the trailer, grabbed a cup of coffee, wiped down the bike and was ready to roll.  I took a big breath and paused to ask for God’s Blessings.  I never ride without prayer and giving God praise but then that’s just me!

I turned on my iPod, checked my map which was taped to my windshield bag with some trusty “Duck Tape” and turned on my GoPro to record the moment.

 

 

TC and I have a rule when we ride – we put in the 125 miles before we stop to eat and if we are feeling really good, we wait until lunch time to make the daylight count.  After riding 2.5 days (1,674 miles)  I arrived safely at my sister’s home in League City, TX.

Pam & Jan

 

Click here to view a few of the photos on my journey

 

After having a wonderful time visiting with my sister and friends I received a phone call from my Grandmother.  I knew right away by her voice that something was wrong.  She told me my mother was in ICU in Atlanta and it was not looking good.   I called TC and told him the news.  Without hesitation, TC told me that Atlanta was an easy ride for me from Houston, TX – almost a straight shot.  Thunderstorms had already delayed my return to New Jersey but now all I needed was to be at least a day ahead of the storm.   Sunny & Goldrush

Goldrush “Our Best Man” stopped by to see me before I hit the road.  He has been a good friend to both TC and I over the years.

I said my good-byes to Pam and Ruffus, loaded up the trailer and  was ready to roll again.  This time, time was of the essence.  My mother’s condition was unsure and I didn’t want to waste much time.

While en-route to Atlanta, I stopped in Alabama where I was greeted by our good friend “Smokey” from the Montgomery BSMC.  Smokey and some fellow clubs in the motorcycle community were on a mission helping provide support to a Homeless Shelter and Food Pantry.  The fellow bikers were full of questions and praise.  We took pictures, shared a few laughs and I was off on the road again.

I was locked and loaded and made it to Atlanta in 1.5 days (850 miles). I arrived ahead of schedule to Atlanta.

 

I sent out an SOS to a fellow Soldier “Billy D” and while waiting for him to arrived I had the pleasure of meeting a “Fellow Survivor.”  Pat was just finishing up chemo and her good friend Janelle introduced us after striking up a conversation with me.

Janelle said, she couldn’t help but notice me in pink, on a bike and pulling a trailer.  We laughed and exchanged information.  Pat and Janelle work together as Flight Attendants.   Pat said, Janelle had been a great support during her battle with breast cancer. It is good to meet women who support each other in good and bad times.

 

Sunny & Billy D in Atlanta, GA

I was greeted by Billy D from the BSMC of Atlanta.  Billy D and Lady P opened the doors of their home for me to shower, rest, relax and to meet my Grandmother and Cousin before escorting us to our hotel.  Not knowing what was ahead of us we were very thankful for their generous hospitality.

Lady P and Billy D have been supporters of Divas For A Cure since our inception and we remain forever friends.

Billy D escorted us to the hotel and helped up get settled.  The next day we were able to finally see my mom in ICU.  It was a bitter sweet moment.  We spent  Mother’s Day with Mom and it helped to brighten everyone’s spirit.

The ride home to New Jersey was long.  My Solo Ride was nearing an end.  I left Atlanta early in the moring 6 AM to be exact.  After four gas stops and 500+ miles I was in Petersburg, VA with only 300 miles to go – I decided to take in on in!

Once again, TC celebrated me with a confident sound in his voice and told me, “Okay,  if you feel up to it – press on!”  A few more gas stops under my belt I called him to update him on my status.   It would be dark and I don’t see well and have a rule that I generally don’t ride past dark.   TC told me he would meet me at the Cracker Barrel just after I crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridge” and escort me home.  I was relieved.

Sunny The Diva 2012

 

My Final mileage. (New Jersey to Houston TX then Atlanta to New Jersey) Total miles: 3,355.

The journey was worth every mile.  I can now cross this off my “Bucket List.”

 

2011 DFAC Check Presentation

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Dec 302011
 

2 Survivors (Cindy & Sunny ) get a surprise visit from celebrity guest Mark McGraw

Since our inception in 2005, we have donated a total of $123,200.00 to Breast Cancer Research.

This year, we donated $2,200.00 to M.D. Anderson Cancer Research Center. Our funds have been dedicated to Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research. We continue to support a treatment room which is dedicated in our name.

2010 DFAC Check Presentation

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Oct 302010
 

We get by with a little help from our friends. We could not have done it without the help of the folks in the Barb's H-D and the motorcycle community.

Since our inception in 2005, we have donated a total of $120,500.00 to Breast Cancer Research.

This year, we donated $3,500.00 to M.D. Anderson Cancer Research Center. Our funds have been dedicated to Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research. We continue to support a treatment room which is dedicated in our name.

 

2008 DFAC Check Presentation

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Oct 252008
 

Three years later, over 21,000 miles ridden and just over $110,000.00 raised for Breast Cancer Research – – Divas For A Cure is still dedicated to the mission.

On Saturday, October 25, 2008, Divas For A Cure accompanied by the NJ Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club, Family, Friends & DFAC Supporters presented a check to Bill Alexander of M.D. Anderson Cancer Research Center for $35,000.00 at the Harley-Davidson of Ocean County dealership in Lakewood, NJ.

The proceeds from this years’ run will be dedicated solely to Breast Cancer Research. This is a small token but a big commitment in the huge struggle for many of us who continue to be plagued with health issues as a result of the fight. Cancer does not discriminate – – but we have made many strives and many of us are still here as a result of the advances and developments of new technology, treatments and medicines developed from research. Countless lives will be saved also as a result of early detection. Elaine Thomas “Hunter” a member of the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club, Poconos Chapter said it best, “We want a cure in our lifetime!”

Elaine “Hunter” Thomas (2008 DFAC Diva Rider) and Les “Chase” Thomas (2008 DFAC Chase Vehicle Driver) drove in from the Poconos. Michelle “Queen of Hearts (2008 DFAC Diva Rider) & Anthony “Joker” Hampton flew in from Atlantato celebrate with us. John “Morphius” Tucker and his wife drove in to represent from the Central Virginia Buffalo Soldiers Chapter. Karina Jaramillo-Saa, Manager, Market Outreach at Harley-Davidson Motor Company, Milwaukee Corporate Headquarters joined us as well. Thomas “TC” Costley, National President (2008 DFAC RoadCaptain) represented on behalf of the National Association of Buffalo Soldiers and Troopers Motorcycle Club. Nate Gundy, President of the New Jersey Buffalo Soldiers accompanied by 20+ members and associates represented as only real SOLDIERS do.

A special thank you goes out to Asa Murray, owner of the Harley-Davidson of Ocean County dealership for hosting the 2008 Divas For A Cure Check Presentation.

Since the struggle is not over – we have made a commitment to continue a good fight until there is a cure. We hope you will join us in 2009.

2007 DFAC Check Presentation

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Oct 202007
 


Jan Emanuel-Costley, Founder & President of Divas For A Cure accompanied by Members of the Houston Chapter of the National Association of Buffalo Soldiers & Troopers Motorcycle Club, along with TC Costley, National President of the NABSTMC, family, friends and other cancer survivors presented a check in the amount of $50,000.00 to Dr. Vickie Shannon and staff of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX on October 20, 2007.

 

2006 DFAC Check Presentation

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Oct 212006
 

We are proud to announce that on October 21, 2006 Divas For A Cure, accompanied by members of the “NABSMC” National Association of Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club (Houston, TX Chapter) presented a check to M.D. Anderson (Nellie B Connally Breast Cancer Center) in the amount of $25,000.

The presentation was hosted at Stubbs Harley-Davidson in Houston, TX