31 Days of Impact – Day 25, Laura Farmer Sherman
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.
LAURA FARMER SHERMAN, SAN DIEGO – Breast Cancer Survivor and Advocate
“As an Executive Director of one of Komen’s Affiliates, I’m most proud of the relationships we’ve developed in the community, bringing a wide range of partners together to help fund support for research – and to help those women and men in San Diego County who are literally choosing between whether they can put food on the table, or pay for a lifesaving mammogram.”
I honestly couldn’t believe the diagnosis. I hadn’t been sick a day in my life. And I struggled against the reality of what I considered a death sentence. I didn’t know much about cancer – I honestly thought you had to have it in your family to get it. Now I know of course that’s not true. I found that out quickly along with a hundred other facts that made me a “likely candidate” to get breast cancer: my period started early in my life. I didn’t have children. I led a very stressful life.
I was diagnosed on a Wednesday. On that Friday I was having a mastectomy. When I woke up, I learned that 15 lymph nodes were “taken” and that four had evidence of cancer. My path was now clear. Heal from the surgery. Start very aggressive chemotherapy followed by radiation. I found as the days turned into weeks, I was having trouble “getting up” the will to fight. A grief counselor changed all that when she had me write my obituary as the person I was, and then a second obituary for the person I wanted to be. The “other person” became my reason for living. I wanted to live so that I could be a better friend, a better sister, a better aunt, a more compassionate person. Notice I didn’t say “a better worker.” The old adage is true. No one on their death beds ever wishes they had spent more time at work. Why did it take a cancer diagnosis to wake me up to that reality?
My friends and family – when they heard the news – were shocked and all reacted in different ways. The people I thought “would be there” weren’t. Some of the people who actually turned out to “be there” were surprising to me. One of the sweetest things that happened was that my dear friend’s little girl – when she knew that I would lose my hair – shaved all of her Barbie’s heads so that I “wouldn’t feel alone.” And I’ll never forget her saying: “Mommy says that Barbie’s hair won’t grow back – but yours will.”
I decided to turn over my business career and instead focus on helping others with breast cancer. I started volunteering for my local Susan G. Komen Affiliate in San Diego. I started to spend so much time living the Komen mission – empowering women, ensuring quality care for all, and energizing science to find the cures – I eventually became the Executive Director for the Affiliate in 2007. I’m most proud of the relationships we’ve developed in the community, bringing a wide range of partners together to help fund support for research – and to help those women and men in San Diego County who are literally choosing between whether they can put food on the table, or pay for a lifesaving mammogram.
Breast cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me. For every “bad” thing that happens in our lives – look for the “yes.” Everything that happens has a gift. The trick is to be open to finding it. Breast cancer allowed me to change my life completely. I quit my job. I found out what I really wanted to do. And now I’m doing it. When you face death – you can face anything. Nothing frightens me anymore. No one can ever hold me back. Cancer taught me that. And I am grateful.
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About the author
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.