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Sister de Porres Polk leans on faith to fight cancer

Sister is this year's Warrior Women Wall of Fame honoree in Jonesboro

Published: November 3, 2015   
Sister de Porres Polk has battled breast cancer in 2008 and 2015 and is a warrior in the eyes of her Benedictine community and local health care professionals in Jonesboro.

JONESBORO — Diagnosed twice with breast cancer, Sister de Porres Polk finds strength through her faith.

“If it wasn’t for my faith, I wouldn’t be able to get through this,” Sister de Porres, subprioress at Holy Angels Convent, said. “If it wasn’t for God and Jesus holding my hand, I wouldn’t make it through.”

Polk, 72, is this year’s Warrior Women Wall of Fame honoree at the St. Bernards Imaging Outpatient Center in Jonesboro. The Warrior Wall recognizes women who have battled and survived breast cancer.

A reception in her honor was held Oct. 11.

The Warrior Wall was created in 2006 when the new imaging center opened on Matthews Avenue. Six women were featured that first year and at least one new woman is added each year.

It was a welcome surprise to be the 2015 honoree, said Sister de Porres, whose breast cancer reoccurred in August.

She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 and finished treatment in 2009.

“It was something I didn’t expect. I kept thinking, ‘Why me, Lord?’” Sister de Porres said of her original diagnosis. “I finally got to the point of saying, ‘Why not me?’

“It was scary,” she added. “I didn’t know what to expect. I had a lot of support. I had people who had gone through it to tell me sort of what to expect and how it affected them. I was able to talk to them about it.”

Sister de Porres was cancer free for six years. She said it was a surprise to learn she had cancer once again.

“I knew I had been through it, fought it before and I knew I could fight it again,” she said. “It wasn’t as scary as it was the first time because I had gone through it before and I knew what to do.”

She has now completed radiation for a second time, although she will have to undergo weekly chemotherapy sessions from now on. Again, she said it is faith that can help a person through it.

A native of southwestern Louisiana, Sister de Porres said her mother was not Catholic but made sure she and her two siblings attended the nearby Catholic church for Mass and religious education classes.

Sister de Porres resisted her calling for 10 years, and her parish priest used to tease her by saying he was going to send her to a convent.

“I wasn’t sure that was what God was calling me to,” she added. “But I wasn’t ready for marriage either. Between the two, the Lord won.”

One Sunday, Sister de Porres said she was listening to a homily by the priest when her calling finally sank in. When she looked at the priest, she didn’t see the pastor, but Jesus standing there.

“I forgot the words he used, but I said, ‘OK, you win’,” Sister de Porres said.

She was introduced to Holy Angels through the sisters who taught religious education in her hometown.

After Sister de Porres joined the order, she worked as a licensed practical nurse in labor and delivery for almost 30 years at St. Bernards. She also served in Little Rock where she was a liaison for the Diocesan Council for Black Catholics. She now produces work schedules for the sisters of the convent.

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