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  • Komen Virginia Blue Ridge Focuses on the Promise

    Guest post by Komen Virginia Blue Ridge Affiliate

    Like many Susan G. Komen Affiliates, Komen Virginia Blue Ridge is driven by the vast need for funding within our service area. Our goal being to fulfill Komen’s mission – to save lives and end breast cancer forever –  a principle that we continue to be reminded of annually, as the call for grant funding produces an increasing amount of requests each year.

    In 2014 alone, we were able to fund less than half of the requests we received, even though all organizations possessed worthwhile goals and were more than deserving of our support. After observing this steady increase in requests, our Board and staff quickly realized more needed to be done within our community in order attain our mission-related goals and maximize fundraising potential.

    After seeing great success with our Race for the Cure®, yet remaining flat in revenue, the idea for the Pink Promise Luncheon was born. From the start we had lofty goals for our inaugural event – a unique location, fantastic speaker, wonderful food, extensive guest list, and dedication to our goal of raising awareness and funding for Susan G. Komen®.

    From the beginning, the outpouring of support for our event within the Virginia Blue Ridge Community was truly humbling, with many individuals and business owners rallying together for the cause.  A local venue donated the event space.  Kroger donated all of the flowers and centerpieces. A caterer (whose mother was a survivor) prepared the meal at cost. We filled the venue to capacity with 400 guests and acquired over $20,000 in new sponsorship.

    Outreach for the event was a true grassroots effort.  Our community was extremely fortunate to be able to welcome Komen President and CEO, Dr. Judy Salerno, who paid a special visit to our Affiliate and served as a guest speaker at the event.  We were also honored to welcome husband of local survivor and author Dick Wall, who spoke about his wife Carol Wall’s journey through life and her experience with breast cancer.

    The entire event was focused on the Promise – with each guest being asked to write a promise to themselves that we plan to mail to them in three months as a reminder. Each guest also received a copy of Nancy Brinker’s book “Promise Me,” and we had the honor of hearing Dr. Judy Salerno speak about the Promise Renewed – Komen’s Principles and Priorities.

    The luncheon, which was filled with hope and inspiration, left our 400 guests in awe with many expressing the importance of our story, the work done within the community and our mission. The Virginia Blue Ridge Affiliate covers a large rural area with a medically underserved population.  There are many disparities in our region including high rates of poverty and unemployment.   It is with this in mind that we work so hard to fund local programs to provide screening and diagnostic mammograms, education and treatment to our uninsured and underinsured neighbors.  Many attendees also expressed their renewed sense of urgency in getting regular mammograms, but also making sure those around them do as well.

    We have already started brainstorming ideas for next year’s Second Annual Pink Promise luncheon, in hopes to continue to leverage this opportunity to share our message and move the mission forward.

  • A heartfelt thank you to Susan G. Komen Puerto Rico

    Blog by Eric Brinker, Susan G. Komen Global Ambassador & Volunteer

    On October 5, I joined thousands of women and men in Puerto Rico for an unforgettable experience at the 10th annual Komen Puerto Rico Race for the Cure.

    Having been part of the Susan G. Komen organization since I was 5 years old, I have seen a lot of Races and breast cancer awareness events in my life… but there was something very different about this one. Just like my aunt Suzy, the event was full of life and incredible passion. You hear about the energy and passion of people in Puerto Rico, but until you are there in person and experience it for yourself, you can’t quite understand!  People at the Race were not just participants. They were part of the fight – involved and engaged all day.  My aunt Suzy’s spirit was shining through, joining us on this special 10th anniversary Race day.

    I am overwhelmed with pride on how the Puerto Rican community has honored my aunt Suzy’s name and legacy. Approximately 14,000 people laced up their sneakers to join us on October 5th for a celebration of life – an event where families come out to honor those who have lost their fight and celebrate the hundreds of women who are proud and thriving survivors.  The survivors were the heart and soul, the celebrities, of this event, never letting us forget why we Race for the Cure in the first place.

    One of the survivors I had the privilege to meet was Iris Rodriguez – an amazingly strong woman whose treatment was funded in part through a grant from Komen Puerto Rico.  Iris shared what gives her strength to keep on fighting in this amazing video which kept with the Race’s boxing theme and featured Hall of Fame boxers Oscar de la Hoya and Miguel Cotto.  Iris, who is 51 years old, invited everyone to “join her corner” as she fights for time
    with her family and the opportunity to see her grandchildren grow up.  What a beautiful project made possible by the Affiliate’s strong partnership with JWT and their committed team!

    I’m so incredibly proud of the massive impact Komen Puerto Rico has had in the local community. Just this year, Komen Puerto Rico announced 21 grant programs covering every single municipality on the island, helping underserved women get the screening, treatment and support services they so desperately need.   I was honored to meet some of these grantee organizations at the Race, and it was wonderful to see participants have the chance to meet them as well.

    Komen Puerto Rico is also taking the lead in convening members of the medical community, the government and local patients to openly discuss the issues in care and work towards the changes needed to help save more lives.  Their innovative Banderas program establishes strong partnerships, not only with corporations, but also with schools, government agencies, associations and other entities who have joined together to fight against breast cancer.

    The Puerto Rican community has come together to inspire the change they hope to see, and to solve the problems they are facing. That spirit embodies the meaning of my aunt’s life.

    I’d like to thank Komen Puerto Rico for this experience, which made me feel personally energized to double down my commitment to help and continue the work we do.

    Thanks to your strong Board of Directors, amazing staff, passionate volunteers and partners and a community willing to join in and participate. You have the recipe to save lives and make a difference in Puerto Rico.

     



  • Progress Towards a Cure for Breast Cancer: Small Steps and Big Leaps

    Guest Blog by Komen Chief Scientific Advisor Dr. George Sledge, Jr., MD. Dr. Sledge is a Professor of Medicine and Pathology, and Chief of the Division of Oncology in the Department of Medicine at Stanford University. 

    As a physician and cancer researcher I am often asked, “when will we find a cure for breast cancer?” The answer is complicated, in part because of what we have learned over the last decade or so: breast cancer is not one disease, but many, and as such will require not one cure, but many.

    Are we making progress towards the “cures” of breast cancer? I believe so, though there is much work to be done. In the clinic, we deal with three basic types of breast cancer: one dominated by the presence of the estrogen receptor (hence, estrogen-driven in terms of its growth), one whose growth is driven by the growth factor receptor HER2, and one where HER2 and ER are absent (which we often call “triple negative”, because it lacks the progesterone receptor as well).

    Estrogen receptor positive breast cancer was the first human cancer where we had targeted therapy, in the form of drugs that remove estrogen or prevent estrogen binding to its receptor. These drugs clearly reduce the risk of recurrence in early stage, estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer patients, but they do not cure everyone with this type of breast cancer. In the past decade we have learned much about how breast cancers become resistant to estrogen-targeting drugs, and this has led to new drugs to thwart resistance. The first of these, everolimus, recently entered clinical care, and others are rapidly being developed. For instance, we know that estrogen drives growth through something called CDK4/6, and early studies suggest that blocking CDK 4/6 significantly lengthen the time patients with advanced breast cancer remain in remission.

    HER2-positive breast cancers are the second major “family” of breast cancers for which we have developed targeted therapies. HER2-targeting drugs entered clinical practice with the use of the antibody trastuzumab, initially for advanced breast cancers, but during the last decade for early stage breast cancers as well. HER2-positive breast cancers have gone from being the most feared to being among the most treatable. New HER2-targeting drugs have joined our treatment tool kit in the past three years, and we are already seeing impressive evidence that these drugs improve survival for patients with advanced disease. Several of these drugs (pertuzumab, T-DM1 and neratinib) are now being tested for early stage breast cancer, and the hope (I think a realistic hope) is that these new drugs will largely eliminate HER2-positive breast cancer as public health problem.

    The third group of breast cancers, so-called “triple negative breast cancer”, has proved the most intractable. While the combination of local therapies (surgery and radiation) and adjuvant chemotherapy cure many of the women with this disease, the picture for patients with advanced (or metastatic) disease remains daunting. While we have many chemotherapy agents for women with advanced disease, these drugs are toxic and eventually fail to control the disease.

    Several new approaches to triple negative breast cancer are being tried. For instance, women with BRCA1 mutations (most of whom have triple negative disease) appear to be more sensitive to drugs that interfere with DNA repair, and several of these are being tested. In addition, new approaches that involve interfering with the metabolism of these drugs, as well as novel approaches that make use of the body’s immune system, are now underway.

    Many of these new approaches represent small steps in the right direction. Will they collectively result in a “great leap” forward towards our goal of a cure for breast cancer? Only time will tell, but I am optimistic that we will continue to improve the fate of women with the disease, through the efforts of a dedicated army of breast cancer researchers. Komen researchers have been at the forefront of many of the major advances in breast cancer research, both in understanding the biology of the disease, and applying this knowledge to the clinic.

    Ultimately, of course, part of the cure should involve preventing, as opposed to treating, breast cancer. This has also been an exciting research area, and one that Komen has invested a great deal of resources in. We could give no greater gift to our children than using novel prevention approaches to consign breast cancer to the dustbin of medical history.

  • Wiser and Stronger Than You Know

    Guest blog by Marissa Fors, Susan G. Komen Helpline Specialist.

    I’ve been working on the Susan G Komen® breast care helpline for many years now. I have been blessed with the opportunity to speak with women and men that have been touched by breast cancer, and more often than not, I learn from them just as much as they learn from me. Many callers are wiser and stronger than they know. It is such a beautiful experience to be able to witness someone realizes this as they share their unique experiences with the disease. My callers remind me of this daily, but it is one caller in particular, Gloria, that has touched my heart deeply with her strength, wisdom and honesty.

    Gloria has experienced more loss in the past year than I could ever imagine. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy, and at the time I spoke with her she was undergoing chemotherapy. She expressed the sorrow she felt when she lost her breast after surgery, and now, her hair from the chemo. But most of all, she is mourning the loss of her identity and her independence; side effects of treatment no doctor could prepare her for.

    After her own diagnosis of breast cancer, Gloria lost her best friend to the same disease. Her best friend and “bosom buddy,” as they occasionally joked, were inseparable most of their lives. They never imagined that they would share a breast cancer diagnosis, but they were each others biggest supporters and allies in the best and worst of times.

    When Gloria found the number to the Susan G. Komen Breast Care Helpline, she was depressed, felt a sense of isolation and loneliness, and expressed a profound survivor’s guilt. Her emotions were overwhelming and she needed a safe way to express these feelings. She was going through so much and didn’t know how to cope. I was able to provide her with the support she needed, and together, we discovered the strength she never knew she had. It takes an incredibly strong person to ask for and accept help. Realizing this gave her a sense of empowerment and comfort.

    After realizing her own inner strengths, she also reflected on her small victories and sources of joy that provided inspiration in the darkest of times. She found happiness and light from her new nephew that was born around the same time she was diagnosed with cancer. Her dog, a seven year old golden retriever, showed his love in unexpected and unconventional ways. She looks forward to playing with both her nephew and her dog, and believes they are both small miracles in her journey through diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

    At the end of our conversation, I learned a lot about perseverance from Gloria. She ended the call stating that she was having a bad day, and expects to have some more bad days down the line, but feels more equipped with the power to cope and manage these emotions in different ways. She reflected:

    “Sometimes strength comes from the most unlikely of places. Sometimes you have to search high and low, climb mountains and overcome the scariest of obstacles to find it. And sometimes it has been sitting in your lap all along.”

    Gloria expressed her profound gratitude to have the opportunity to be completely open and honest about her experience with being diagnosed with breast cancer. I have to say, I am also grateful for her, and for the powerful words she shared with me.

    It is an honor to be part of the Komen Helpline and to be able to speak with and provide support to people nationwide. It is a unique and rewarding experience and, it is times like this that make me so proud to be a Helpline Specialist.

    If you, or your loved one, have any questions about breast cancer, you can give us a call at 1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877-465-6636).

  • Survivors From Around the World

    Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure® series raises significant funds and awareness for the breast cancer movement, celebrates breast cancer survivorship, and honors those who have lost their battle with the diseases.  Survivors around the world proudly wear pink Race shirts and become advocates for themselves and others who have been diagnosed.  Even though talking about the disease is still taboo in many ethnic groups, women are starting to acknowledge publicly their survivorship at Race for the Cure events.  By doing so, they are dispelling myths about breast cancer and have become ambassadors for the cause.

    During the month of September, several  of our international Susan G. Komen Affiliates and nonprofit partner organizations in Europe celebrated local survivors at five Race for the Cure events in Europe.  Races took place in:

    -  Brussels, Belgium       September 7, 2014 (NEW Race) by Think-Pink

    -  Bologna, Italy              September 28, 2014 by Susan G. Komen Italia onlus

    -  Athens, Greece           September 28, 2014 by Alma Zois

    -  Frankfurt, Germany     September 28, 2014 by Susan G. Komen Deutschland e.V.

    -  Antwerp, Belgium       September 28, 2014 by Think-Pink

    The Race series is a catalyst for empowering survivors to speak out, share their personal stories and give hope and strength to others.  In today’s blog, meet Irini, Martine, Iris, Lucia, and Liliane – five amazing European women who have inspired us with their strength and determination to help others win their fight against breast cancer.

    Meet Irini from the Athens Race in Greece

    “I was 32 years old when I got the shocking diagnosis “breast cancer.”  My life had been full of dreams about love, marriage, children,…  dreams about a happy and prosperous future.  Suddenly my life was full of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty about the future.  Time seemed to stand stil.  I just stood there… waiting for my execution.  I didn’t have a family of my own.  My parents and my friends tried to help.  My beloved dog gave me strength to fight for my life because she would not have been able to understand if I abandoned her.  I endured a mastectomy, a breast reconstruction, 6-months of chemotherapy, 2 years of menopausal injections and 4 years of hormonal treatment. 

    A few months after my diagnosis a friend introduced me to the Panhellenic Association of Women with Breast Cancer – Alma Zois.  I met survivors of 20 years and received psychosocial support from professionals.  Slowly but steadily all my questions were answered. Why me? Why now? What’s next? I was strong before and I thought I could deal with this on my own but with peer support, things were easier. Two years later, I was professionally  trained  to become a volunteer, offering the same support to newly diagnosed young women. At the same time  I started attending European Conferences and meetings. 

    At that time of my life – after all the chemo, induced menopause and hormonal therapy – I had given up hope for a child of my own.  I focused on myself and had a man in my life who wanted me the way I was.  Pregnancy was a dream I felt like I had to give up after breast cancer.  9 months after I stopped all medications a miracle happened!  I got pregnant and exactly 6 years after my diagnosis, I gave birth to my healthy little girl Iris Hope who is now 7 years old.  She keeps me motivated and gives me strength to carry on.  I am cancer free now but  have to take good care of my health to be there for her, raise her and watch her become a beautiful and strong woman.  That is my desire, that is my dream. Healthy lifestyle, frequent screening tests, a positive attitude and a bit of luck… all I want is to stay alive for my little girl!

    The Greece Race for the Cure began 5 years ago.   I was at the first event with my 2-year old daughter and we have been a part of it ever since.  She knows everything about my illness, how I sacrificed my breast in order to save my life.  How many pills I have swallowed, how many injections I have endured and  how important  it is to follow doctors’ orders.  She knows that her name – Hope –  represents all young women with breast cancer who hope to have a baby someday.  Each year, when she gets up on stage at the Race, she feels proud of her mommy, proud and thankful that she was born.”

    Meet Martine from the Antwerp Race in Belgium (shown to the left in photograph)

    “I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008.  During my treatment I received a lot of support from my sister Viviane.  Just one year after my diagnosis, we trained together for the first edition of the Race for the Cure in Antwerp.  The day of the Race all breast cancer survivors received a glass of pink sparkling wine, which I really enjoyed!  Viviane was by my side and said she wouldn’t mind having a nice drink herself.  In 2010, Viviane went for her routine check-up and was also diagnosed with breast cancer.  She called me and said:  ‘Next year, at the Race for The Cure in Antwerp, we will be drinking pink sparkling wine together.’  I immediately understood and vowed to be there for her every step of the way.  We have been at all six editions of Race in Antwerp and are so happy that we have always been able to cross the finish line together.  We give each other strength.”

    Meet Iris from the Frankfurt Race in Germany

    “When I discovered that I had breast cancer, I was 33 years old and only married for one year to my husband Uwe.  We had so many plans for our lives together and were deeply shocked by the diagnosis.  I was terrified of doing chemotherapy but realized I have to do everything I can to survive for my husband and my family.  Together, Uwe and I went through the most difficult time of our lives but we grew closer than ever before and know that there is nothing in this world that can ever separate us.  I want us to renew our vows soon to show Uwe how thankful I am for all his support.  He is truly the love of my life.”

    Meet Lucia from the Bologna Race in Italy

    I still remember the moment when I received the diagnosis of MY breast cancer. I was sitting in the doctor’s office desperately looking for a real-life remote control to rewind that moment and to erase those horrible words. That day was followed by a period of six months during which I had surgery, I was treated, I lost MY hair, MY eyebrows, MY eyelashes and MY nails. I was supported and protected by doctors and nurses and also by MY old and new friends and by MY family. I went through many bad times and I lived horrible moments but I also experienced a lot of good things.

    I now have a visible and painful scar that reminds ME everyday how strong I AM.  Since then, I have celebrated two birthdays: the second is the one of MY rebirth when I defeated breast cancer. 

    Pain can touch our lives in many ways but it all depends on how we react to it. This is the reason why, “I” is the word that best describes the strength of fighting MY breast cancer.

    Meet Liliane from the Brussels Race in Belgium (shown to the left in photograph)

    “As a breast cancer survivor, I want to do everything I can to fight against this terrible disease and help others be strong and always stay positive.  I am now cancer-free but continue to fight alongside of my friend Cathy (to the right in the photo) and other women battling their cancer.  Cathy and I had been friends for four years when she received her diagnosis.  Facing the same battle deepened our friendship, we can always count on each other, offer a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear.   The sense of community among survivors at the Race for the Cure is inspiring and makes us stronger.  I participate in all three Belgian Races (Namur, Brussels and Antwerp) and have now formed a support group and Race team in Brussels for my friend Cathy because I feel that together people are stronger. The Cathylili Team consisted of 63 people!  I’m very invested in the fight against breast cancer and I’m always looking for ways to do more.  Being a breast cancer survivor myself, I fully understand the challenges women are facing.  Support of family, friends and other survivors is invaluable and sharing positive thoughts and joy with each other gives us the strength we need to keep fighting!”

    To see pictures of our international September Races, visit the following websites:

    Italy: Susan G. Komen Italia www.komen.it

    Germany: Susan G. Komen Deutschland e.V. www.komen.de

    Belgium: Think-Pink www.think-pink.be

    Greece: Alma www.almazois.gr

    Visit komen.org to find a Race near you.