Fun for a foundation
The third annual Michigan Chicken Wing Festival funds cancer foundation

Lansing resident Shirley M. Carter, 61, by all outside accounts has been swamped. She has had entertainment to book, food to secure and prizes to plan for an estimated 6,000 people. But on Friday, she’ll finally be able to take a breather with the start of the third annual Michigan Chicken Wing Festival.

“Chicken wing festivals have been around for 28 years now,” Carter said. “But there hasn’t been one in Michigan, not an official one. There have been festivals where they’ve had wings there, or a wing bash, but this is different. It’s something new for Michigan, the official chicken wing festival, and why not in Lansing? It’s the capital.”

The festival, which has more than 20 local sponsors, will include everything from an inflatable bounce house for kids to a beer and wine tent for adults and, of course, plenty of with chicken wing vendors. But despite all the festivities, Carter said she started the festival for a more serious cause than an enjoyable weekend.

“It’s not only the Michigan Chicken Wing Festival, but it supports a nonprofit I have for breast cancer and other survivors of cancer,” Carter said.

Carter’s foundation is called Against All Odds and has been around since 1999. Carter herself is a two-time breast cancer survivor, having been diagnosed for the first time in 1995.

“When I first was diagnosed, I was married but things started falling apart in the home, and by ’99 I was separated,” Carter said. “Being that my job closed out on me, I started researching for support and as a survivor, unable to work, I couldn’t find a job.”

Without a support system and means of income, Carter said she witnessed firsthand how the disease can damage not only one’s physical health, but also the ability to cope with trying times. She said she spent time researching means of treatment when she was ill and eventually was able to land on her feet.

However, Carter said that she understands that springing back to normal isn’t always a possibility for everyone. That’s why her organization helps individuals on a case-by-case basis. Carter’s help can include going to medical appointments with patients, paying a patient’s phone bill for a few months as they recuperate or just being a friendly face.

For Dimondale resident Betteye Bolden, 64, Carter aided her by informing her of new treatments and organizing a way for her to fly out of state for it.

“I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where to go, who to trust, who to talk to. I was just devastated and she was able to find organizations for me that helped me — like this Angel Flight that she found for me,” Bolden said, referring to a medical flight-sharing program. “They flew me to the Mayo Clinic. It was free of charge and they arranged housing for me and everything. I wouldn’t have even known that such an organization existed.”

Bolden was inspired after receiving help from Carter, so she decided to help Against All Odds too. Although Bolden’s cancer has since come back, she said she has since become more knowledgeable about the disease and now advocates for patients to get 3-D mammography — multiple images of the breast that help patients get a clearer picture of their cancer — to ensure they have a better understanding of their own health.

“In my particular case, I had not been informed that there was a possibility that I had breast cancer, so I kind of didn’t stay up with things. I went and got my first initial exam but I didn’t come back because I didn’t know I had breast cancer,” Bolden said. “And it happened the second time. Ever since the first diagnosis I have had my mammogram every year.”

That’s exactly the type of situation Bolden and Carter hope to avoid. For now, Bolden has to suspend her advocacy in preparation for another flight back to the Mayo Clinic. She said that with Carter’s help, she’s been able to monitor her disease’s relapse even better.

“I’m still under the doctor’s care but thanks to Shirley, things that I don’t know, I call her and she’s just like a walking dictionary. She just pops up questions with answer and phone numbers and stuff,” Bolden said. “She’s not just for breast cancer. She’s for all the things that can go wrong.”

Despite Carter’s best efforts however, she can still sometimes lose a patient. She said that for her, she becomes personally attached to each patient she aids.

“It touches me personally because I lost a lot of family members to cancer and a cousin died on 9/11 last year. She went through four rounds and I was her patient advocate. It can take a toll when you’re dealing with someone so close to you,” Carter said.

But this only pushes Carter to go further in her efforts.

“I have my way of knowing that at least I was there. At least I gave them information. And there were certain patients I helped with the information and there’s no charge from our program,” Carter said. “I go and speak to hundreds and thousands of people at seminars and it’s rewarding for me to do that. I make sure to take my ‘me time’ and I have friends around me.”

And in a way, the Michigan Chicken Wing Festival is just Carter’s way of taking both her “me time” and ensuring she can fund her patient advocacy.

“Everybody loves chicken wings, and a lot of people are coming in from out of town from Knoxville, Minnesota, California and busloads from Kalamazoo,” Carter said. “We call it a staycation. It’s on Labor Day weekend and not everyone can afford to take one last vacation. Why not come to the festival?”

Michigan Chicken Wing Festival Friday, Sept. 1 and Sat. Sept. 2, noon to midnight. Sun. Sept. 3, 2 – 11:45 p.m. Tickets start at $25 Adado Riverfront Park 300 N. Grand Ave., Lansing michiganchickenwingfestival.com