It just didn't make any sense.
Michel and Darren Sproles just had their second daughter, Rhyan. Shortly after she was born, Michel noticed that an area of her right breast was thicker than the rest.
She went for an ultrasound, and it showed obstructed milk ducts. That could have made sense, except for the fact that she wasn't breastfeeding.
Michel knew something wasn't right. She pleaded to get a mammogram and on October 17, 2012 doctors delivered the news that no one ever wants to hear – Michel had ductal carcinoma (DCIS), a non-invasive form of breast cancer.
"That's my best friend. It was tough for me to see her going through that time. It was rough for me, but I knew I had to stay strong for her," Darren says. "There were times when I would cry, but I wouldn't let her see me."
Michel was only 28 years old at the time. She remained in good shape after her track and field success in high school helped earn a full scholarship to UNLV. There was no history of breast cancer in her family. The typical warning signs didn't apply to her.
Fortunately, Michel was in Stage 0 when the cancer was discovered. She didn't mess around. Michel decided to undergo a double mastectomy and remove any trace of the predator.
There was a bout of depression that followed. It was Darren who provided a much-needed lift for his wife.
"He was just like, 'You've got to snap out of this. It is what it is. You experienced it. It's over. It's done with. The test is over. Whatever reason God had you go through this we may not know now. We may find out later, we may never know, but it's over. You're fine, you're healthy, the doctor said you're healthy, you're not about to die, you're not going anywhere. I need you to snap out of it,'" Michele recalls Darren saying.
"And that was the turning point for me."
The reason may have been a simple one – to provide support for others. Michel realizes that she was fortunate to catch the disease early. She also recognizes that she had access to resources that other women don't have.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mortality rates in black women are 39 percent higher than for white women. Furthermore, research from the National Cancer Institute showed that not only are minorities diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age, but it's typically at a more advanced stage.
"So many women are dying from this disease not because they have to, but because of catching it so late and not having the resources to actually go to the doctor and get that mammogram," Michel says. "There were women who I met that had never had a mammogram and were in their 50s which is crazy because the provisional guidelines for a mammogram is 40."
Inspired by the many survivors – no warriors – she met during her journey, Michel launched the Age Doesn't Define Your Status (A.D.D.Y.S.) campaign to raise awareness that breast cancer can strike women as young and healthy as her.
Michel partnered with the Susan G. Komen LA County Affiliates Circle of Promise for African Americans Initiative to provide a one-day free mobile mammogram service in Los Angeles in 2014 and plans to coordinate similar events soon.
In addition to helping preserve women's health, she also wants to instill confidence by enhancing their beauty at the same time.
"I came into contact with so many women who had to remove their hair and to have to remove your breast, or anything like that, that's part of identifying who you are as a woman," Michel says. "And so many women, their biggest thing was, even more so than the diagnosis and having to have surgery, it was my hair, my hair, my hair and still wanting to feel beautiful when they were going through what they were going through. They still wanted to feel beautiful and look normal and not look like they were going through something."
Michel previously owned 7 Image Salon and used to sell high-quality wigs and hair extensions out of it, which turned into The Pink Line in 2013 just before Darren came to Philadelphia. She uses a portion of the proceeds to create custom wigs for fellow warriors.
"A lot of women said they came across poorly made wigs, so when I launched the line, it was more like priding myself and the brand on really quality wigs so that these women can still walk around and feel confident and be proud even while going through their treatment," says Michel.
"It's usually family members that reach out to us. They send us an email and tell their story and of course we do our research just to kind of make sure people are being genuine and honest. I have stylists that I team up with that give me charitable ways to make the wig and then I provide the hair extensions and then they make the custom wig and then we send them out."