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  • 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

    “A grief counselor 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.”

    “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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  • 31 Days of Impact – Day 24, Agueda Fernandez-Webster

    he 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.

    AGUEDA FERNANDEZ-WEBSTER, SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – Latina Breast Health Navigator

    “After so many tears, so many CT scans, MRIs; there was no way I was leaving Norma by herself.”

    “All of us have certain patients that strike a chord and remind us of our mission and the truly important things in life.”

    “My experience with Norma remains a constant reminder of the many more women out there simply awaiting a companion during difficult times.”

    As a Latina Breast Health Navigator with the Franciscan Foundation, a Komen Puget Sound Grantee, I have educated, loved, and supported many women over the years. Yet all of us have certain patients that strike a chord and remind us of our mission and the truly important things in life. For me, that patient was Norma Solis, a woman who recently passed away from breast cancer, but not before opening my eyes to how often I take many things for granted. I felt a strong connection to Norma from the start and was constantly by her side, giving her support during the worst times of her breast cancer treatment. Without any friends and family close enough to help, Norma needed me to ensure she made her appointments, monitor her medicine, and speak up for her as an interpreter to make sure people knew her wishes.

    On May 24, 2012, Norma received her last chemotherapy (her decision) and voiced the desire to return home to Guatemala to spend her last days with her family. During one of her last chemo sessions, I sensed something was on Norma’s mind and sure enough, she soon began to bombard me with question after question about planning for her trip home and I realized she had never been in an airplane, or even been to an airport for that matter. Listening to her nervously anticipate how she would handle everything on her own I made up my mind and immediately reached out to  Komen Puget Sound to help fund two plane tickets for both Norma and myself. After numerous chemo sessions, multiple doctor’s appointments, countless times sitting with her waiting for her to be picked up and so many tears, there was absolutely no way I could I leave her by herself.  I just did not have the guts or the desire to do so.

    Komen Puget Sound connected with KUNS TV, Seattle’s Univision affiliate. Univision did a special on-air fundraising broadcast for Norma featuring News Anchor Teresa Gonzalez, who interviewed me and Norma. This drive successfully raised needed funds to support Norma and her family. Norma made it safely home to Guatemala with me unwaveringly by her side. Norma died on July 30, 2012 in her own home, surrounded by her loved ones.

    My experience with Norma remains a constant reminder of the numerous women out there simply awaiting a companion during difficult times – someone who can be there by their side and help them get through what life throws their way. It is my promise to Norma and the many more women I will be fortunate enough to meet throughout my career, that I will be that someone.

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  • Race for the Cure Recap: Albuquerque, Louisville, Virginia Beach, Wichita Falls and Phoenix

    October 13 and 14 were filled with pink as Komen supporters in Albuquerque, Louisville, Virginia Beach, Wichita Falls and Phoenix gathered to support community programs and raise critical funds for local men and women.

    On Sunday, hundreds of supporters from the Albuquerque community came together for the annual Central New Mexico Race for the Cure. Survivors were honored with a survivor breakfast and touching survivor parade, and local station KOB covered the event.

    WDRB and WAVE3 covered the Komen Louisville Race for the Cure, which had an estimated crowd of more than 10,000 people! The event was held on the Churchill Grounds, and the Kentucky Derby Bugler started the Race with “My Old Kentucky Home” followed by the official start. Artist Ben Reynolds was on site doing live art as an added enhancement to the Race Day activities.

    Hundreds of supporters hit the ocean front in their pink gear for Komen’s Tidewater Affiliate’s annual Race for the Cure which took place at Virginia Beach, VA. WAVY covers the event.

    Komen’s Wichita Falls Affiliate was excited to report that this year’s Race registration exceeded last year’s! The Times Record News encouraged readers to show up for the event which featured a 1-mile fun walk and a 5K.

    In Phoenix, more than 21,000 participants raised $1.6 million for local community programs through the annual Phoenix Race for the Cure! East Valley Tribune and ABC 15 covered the event.

    Thank you to everyone who has supported Komen and Komen’s Affiliates around the country this October. Stay tuned for more Race recaps and more information about Komen’s work around the globe!

  • 31 Days of Impact – Day 23, Dr. Riccardo Masetti

    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.

    DR. RICCARDO MASETTI, ROME, ITALY – Physician, Advocate, Global Health Ambassador

    “Beyond the borders of Italy, there still are many countries with very limited resources – helping improve the treatment of cancer in these countries is extremely important to me.”

    “In 2010, women of reproductive age (ages 15-49) in developing countries made up 23 percent of the global total of breast cancer cases, meaning there are now twice as many women under 50 with breast cancer in the developing world than in developed countries.”

    “My goal is to work alongside Komen, as we continue to fight breast cancer on a global scale.”

    In 2000, when I had the opportunity to start Komen Italia, my goal was to increase awareness about breast cancer in my country – as education is one of the major challenges surrounding breast cancer globally. We were inspired by, and worked toward, the great achievements of the Komen model, such as the Race for the Cure, which in the United States has motivated women to stand up and speak openly about breast cancer. Over the past 12 years, I’m proud to say, Komen Italia has grown to be one of the leading organizations in breast health advocacy and education in Italy.

    However, beyond the borders of Italy, there still are many countries with very limited resources – helping improve the treatment of cancer in these countries is extremely important to me.

    I have a busy life with my wife and children, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Rome, and my work at the Catholic University where I serve as the head of the Breast Surgical Unit. But, I will always find time to dedicate to the international initiatives that I’m passionate about. In 2010, women of reproductive age (ages 15-49) in developing countries made up 23 percent of the global total of breast cancer cases, meaning there are now twice as many women under 50 with breast cancer in the developing world than in developed countries.

    This jarring reality has encouraged me to become a Global Health Ambassador for Komen. My global work has allowed me to serve as a chair for a breast program of the Euro-Arab School of Oncology, which was created to advance the fight against cancer in the Arab world. I have also served on the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Breast Health Global Initiative, and I am currently serving as senior medical director of the HopeXchange Ghana Health Project, a collaborative international effort aimed at increasing healthcare capacity in sub-Saharan Africa.

    We are working very hard in Ghana. In 2010, we completed the construction of a new hospital in the city of Kumsai, Ghana, and we were able to establish the first breast cancer International Learning Laboratory there – a collaboration of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, BHGI, the Ghana Breast Cancer Alliance, and HopeXchange.

    The original idea was a small mission hospital, and it is turning into something much greater.  We are working on a comprehensive model of intervention to help increase healthcare capacities in sub-Saharan Africa.  This model can be replicated in other countries of limited resources in order to improve access to quality healthcare for women who are in dire need. My goal is to work alongside Komen, as we continue to fight breast cancer on a global scale.

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  • 31 Days of Impact – Day 22, Dr. Ann Partridge

    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.

    Ann H. Partridge, MD, MPH
    Founder and Director, Program for Young Women with Breast Cancer
    Director, Adult Survivorship Program and Lance Armstrong Foundation Clinic
    Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

    “Young breast cancer patients have sort of a double-whammy: they have worse disease on average, and because of their unique psychosocial issues, including concerns about fertility, they also tend to experience more distress.”

    “We know from research and clinical experience that younger women have a harder time with a breast cancer diagnosis than older women. Parenting and work responsibilities aren’t easily shifted to someone else.”

    What first motivated me to focus both my scientific research and my clinical practice on breast cancer in younger women was just seeing the enormous gap in what we know and what we can do for younger women compared to women who are diagnosed in their 50s or 60s, which is where most breast cancer cases tend to occur.  As a relatively young investigator myself, seeing the needs that were not being met for women my age and younger made a deep impression on me.  I knew this was a niche that I could fill and feel passionate about—one that could potentially make a big impact on women’s lives.

    When young women are diagnosed with breast cancer they suffer not only the usual challenges of the disease, they also face challenges that are unique to, or accentuated by, the very fact that they are so young.  For women in their 40s and younger, those challenges often include genetic issues and how this affects treatment decisions as well as fertility concerns because so many haven’t yet completed their families.  Some of the younger women haven’t even started dating yet, or found the person that ultimately they’ll settle down with, if that’s in their future.

    When a young woman comes to see me, she’s often like a deer in the headlights—especially when there’s no history of breast cancer in her family. Though she may have many friends, she may not have a support network to help her cope with the realities of cancer diagnosis and treatment. Who’s going to help a young college student get to and from chemo appointments while her parents are half-way across the country?  By contrast, breast cancer patients in their 50s and 60s are usually established in life and have partners and supportive friends and family who’ve been a part of their lives across many milestones.

    Fertility is also a big concern.  Every day I hear someone say, “I can deal with the breast cancer, it’s the idea that I might not be able to have children that I can’t stand.”  Our work is focused on helping these women cope with their diagnosis, and it’s also about studying options to preserve fertility or help women to make treatment and fertility decisions that make having a child a possibility in the future.

    The challenges facing young women with breast cancer are being studied and addressed through research grants including one funded by an historic collaboration between The Conquer Cancer Foundation®, ASCO, and Susan G. Komen for the Cure®. Komen alone is providing $10 million in support of projects and programs designed to improve the quality of cancer care. It is such an honor and I’m so grateful that my work and the work of my colleagues at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is being supported by some of the most innovative new grants addressing real-life issues in cancer care today. That’s also a reason I am part of the Komen Scholars – so I can be on the frontlines of the scientific review process for such an important organization like Komen.

    My dream has turned into a dynamic and comprehensive multidisciplinary program that truly addresses the unique needs of young women with breast cancer and improves how we treat women and their disease.  It’s hard to imagine anything more exciting or hopeful.

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