BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - She's a breast cancer survivor, preparing for an inspirational journey.
Paulette Leaphart's personal battle against cancer is one of heartache, perseverance and faith. The 49-year-old, single mother of eight will make a 1,000 mile walk to Washington, D.C. topless, exposing the scars of her double mastectomy.
Scars that she says point to a powerful message.
"It's my story. It's a story that says something tried to take me - take my life - and the scars mean I fought back, and I survived. And that's my story," said the outspoken cancer survivor, as she prepared for training on the Biloxi-Ocean Springs Bridge.
Leaphart says the scars on her chest are a permanent reminder of her battle with cancer. She says it was God who told her she had cancer, and God who inspired the upcoming journey.
"He told me to walk a thousand miles - and it's a thousand miles from my hometown, Biloxi, Miss., to Washington D.C. - with my shirt off, exposing, exposing my scars," Leaphart said.
Her topless journey makes some people a little uncomfortable, but she says that it's part of the point.
"When I'm out walking, it stops people in their tracks. I get their attention. And a lot of them come to me, and they thank me," added Leaphart. "I'm exposing my scars for many reasons, and one of the reasons I'm exposing my scars is because this is breast cancer."
The single mother says women in her family didn't talk about breast cancer, despite the fact that several were diagnosed with the disease.
"And we need to talk about it, and we need to show. We need to tell the truth," says Leaphart, "Breast cancer is more than a pink ribbon. I never paid attention to the pink ribbons and the slogans and 'Save the Ta Ta's'. I never paid attention to that."
Leaphart's youngest daughter, 8-year-old Madeline, joined her during her bridge walk. Two years ago, the hard reality of life-threatening cancer turned their lives upside down.
The financial burdens led to eviction.
"I needed medication, I needed to go see the doctor. I needed my treatment and I had to choose between a roof over our heads, or being here to raise my children," Leaphart said. "And of course, I chose to be here to raise my children."
The topless march to Washington will enable Leaphart to share her story and concerns with countless others.
"Being diagnosed with breast cancer is just half the battle. It's the emotional side, you know, being a single mom. Raising four young daughters. The thought of me losing my life and leaving my daughters was horrifying...I had to fight back."
Leaphart will leave Biloxi the morning of April 30 headed for Washington D.C. Her 1,000 mile journey will begin at the Biloxi-Ocean Springs Bridge.