Sister-survivor who helped educate women about breast cancer dies

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Cynthia King Duncan (left) with her best friend, Toya Thompson-Thomas, a breast cancer survivor. | Provided photo

Cynthia King Duncan was a warrior.

She survived breast cancer three times, and after each diagnosis she devoted herself to helping other women not only survive, but thrive.

I met her in 1997 when I was assigned to cover a Y-Me breast cancer awareness event at Lincoln Park High School.

The national organization ceased operations in 2012.


Cynthia was one of the volunteers who taught teen girls about the importance of self-examinations and annual mammograms.

It was only three years after her first diagnosis.

“I had no reason to believe I would ever have breast cancer,” she told the class.

We exchanged business cards and vowed to say in touch. Because Duncan is my maiden name, we were convinced that there had to be a family connection.

But we didn’t reconnect for nearly a decade, and by that time, Cynthia had another breast cancer battle.

I didn’t know that because Cynthia had been busy living life.

After all, she had her husband, Richard, her daughter, Tai, her banking career and her advocacy work with Y-Me.

Cynthia saw no point in squandering time by wallowing in fears and tears.

“I love my life,” she used to tell me when I wondered out loud how she kept it all together.

Over the years, we would occasionally touch bases.

She recruited me as a model for Y-Me’s annual fashion show because she wanted to make sure the event had diversity.

My own battle with breast cancer a few years later made me a part of Cynthia’s special sisterhood.

And on the day that I couldn’t stop the tears, I called her. She dropped everything and rushed over to my office. While everyone else was urging me to be strong, Cynthia let me cry like a baby.

Two years later, she was diagnosed a third time and chose to have a double mastectomy.

Still, she didn’t curse her fate.

“Cancer has taken me on a tremendous journey. I know there is not only life, but abundant life, after diagnosis,” she wrote in an op-ed piece published by the Sun-Times in 2014.

“I’m glad my misfortune has allowed me to reach so many people. After all, no one should have to face breast cancer alone,” she said.

Cynthia King Duncan, my sister-survivor, passed away on Sunday after a fourth cancer diagnosis.

The cancer was diagnosed only three weeks ago. She was in hospice care for only three days.

“She was there Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, she went home to be with the Lord. She just went to sleep,” her husband told me.

She was born on October 20, 1947, in Chicago. Her parents preceded her in death.

Her father, Miller King, owned a couple of Ace Hardware stores, and her mother, Louise, was a schoolteacher.

Cynthia earned a BA in mathematics, and retired as Vice President at the Bank of New York.

Besides a daughter, Tai Duncan, and her husband, Richard, Cynthia is survived by a brother, James King.

Although a private person, Cynthia was a caring and thoughtful friend.

In her 2014 op-ed, she said this about her more than 40-year friendship with Toya Thompson-Thomas:

“We’ve shared everything but husbands, underwear and toothbrushes. That’s because we belong to that not-so-small sorority of breast cancer survivors and fought the disease together twice.”

Thompson-Thomas points out that Cynthia’s cancer battles did not stop her from enjoying her life.

“If anything, cancer increased her commitment to live life to the fullest and provided her an opportunity to meet some incredible women,” she said.

“She loved gardening beautiful flowers, reading and solving puzzles. She was known for her culinary skills as she loved baking cakes, cookies and brownies for her friends, family and neighbors,” Thompson-Thomas said in an email.

She also loved taking a sister by the hand and helping her make it through.

It would be wrong to say that my survivor-sister died from breast cancer.

The disease did not take her.

Her work was done. God called her home.

Visitation is Sunday, Feb. 18, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The funeral service is at 11 a.m. Monday, Feb. 19, at A.A. Rayner & Sons, 318 E. 71st Street.

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