31 Days of Impact – Day 3, Donna Sanderson

The story of breast cancer is the story of people. Learn about Komen’s impact and work in the fight against breast cancer as told through the eyes of breast cancer survivors, researchers, community health workers and advocates. Read more stories.

DONNA SANDERSON, SACRAMENTO – Breast Cancer Survivor, Advocate

“We work with people of all different cultures at the Sacramento Komen Affiliate. Breast cancer doesn’t discriminate – rich, poor, African American, or Caucasian – it’s pervasive.”

“When dealing with breast cancer, everyone has their most difficult time. Mine was when I was done with treatment. During treatment, I had the attention of an entire team of health care providers – once it was over, that all went away.”

“Our goal, when visiting developing nations, is to bring awareness and educate communities about the realities of breast cancer.”

In the late 1950s, when I was a young girl, the word “breast” and the word “cancer” were taboo. People simply didn’t talk about cancer. My earliest memory of cancer was when my mother and sister were conversing next to the room my aunt was in. She had what they referred to as the “big C.” Today, with the efforts of organizations like Susan G. Komen for the Cure, we have made great strides towards bringing awareness to breast cancer – from the United States to countries like Uzbekistan and Tanzania.

When I first started volunteering for Susan G. Komen for the Cure in 1997, I was 45 years old and, admittedly, didn’t know much about breast cancer. Two months later, I was diagnosed. There was a lump in my breast for a few years that was benign; at my scheduled yearly mammogram they discovered a second malignant cyst hiding behind that lump. I had a mastectomy, followed by treatment including chemotherapy. At the time, the Komen Sacramento Affiliate offered emotional support and referrals to support groups. Since then, the cause has been personal.

Throughout my 15 years with the Komen Sacramento Affiliate, we have had many successes. One of my fondest memories was ten years ago when we started a mobile mammography unit – a unit that is still used today by St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Sacramento. I also led a state-wide collaborative among my fellow executive directors across California, a partnership that has resulted in state initiatives to advance breast health. Beyond the state of California, I’ve worked with Komen to make a difference in developing nations where, like in the U.S. in the 1950s, speaking about breast cancer is taboo.

As the International Race Ambassador of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, I traveled to Tanzania in 2008 and Uzbekistan in 2012. In both countries people don’t talk about cancer. Even worse, cancer brings shame to a family and people believe that you bring it upon yourself. We were there to bring awareness and educate communities about the realities of breast cancer.

In Uzbekistan, we started the first Race for the Cure in the capital of Tashkent, which drew more than 20,000 participants. We brought together government officials, Uzbek celebrities, public figures, ministers of health, and leaders of the Muslim and Christian faiths. We spoke about the state of breast cancer in their country and what could be done – and we planned to accomplish it with the funds raised.

From Uzbekistan to here in Sacramento, volunteers, survivors, and staff form the “Komen family.” Once you are involved, you have friends for life – friends who are passionate about the same issue. My colleagues and I always say that you may go away for a while but you never really leave Komen. As a former retiree who still volunteers and is serving as an interim executive director as they find my successor, I’m a case in point.

Read other impact stories here.

About the author

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Susan G. Komen has written 275 articles for Susan G. Komen® | Blog

Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever. In 1982, that promise became Susan G. Komen and launched the global breast cancer movement. Today, Komen is the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures. Thanks to events like the Komen Race for the Cure®, we have invested more than $1.9 billion to fulfill our promise, becoming the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.