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  • 31 Days of Impact – Day 6, Peggy Johnson

    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.

    PEGGY JOHNSON, WICHITA, KANSAS – Breast Cancer Survivor, Advocate

    “If you’re going to dedicate your life to something, make sure it has meaning for others and not just yourself – and don’t do it if you can’t find joy in the process.”

    “This year, I received one of Komen’s top honors, the Suzy’s Angel Award, which honors people who have committed extraordinary time and energy for the breast cancer movement. It was an unbelievably proud moment for me, but it only means there is more work to do in the fight against breast cancer.”

    I’ve been an active health care advocate in Kansas for more than 20 years – volunteering my time to various women’s health issues and community events. During the late 1980’s I was actively involved with the Junior League of Wichita, including a term as the Shop Chair. The most rewarding opportunity, and one that would change my life, emerged the year the Project Development Committee sought to tackle an issue involving women’s health and decided to bring the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure to Wichita. At that time it was only the fourth race of its kind in the country and issues in women’s health were still very much considered private matters. Needless to say, the program flourished and is currently more than 116 cities strong.

    I eventually became Chairperson of the local Race in Wichita and when local Congressman Dan Glickman was present for one of the events, he was so impressed he contacted me personally and requested that I help him organize a women’s health conference. Eventually, I joined his staff and handled health care legislation and served as his Community liaison.

    My work led me, eventually, to Komen as part of their Board of Directors – and for three years I served as Chair of the National Board of Directors in the mid-1990’s. It was an incredible honor for a role that was usually given to someone in Komen’s home state of Texas, but ultimately it proved extremely rewarding as I realized how much of an impact I could have to help save lives.

    In January 2012, after serving as a Susan G. Komen advocate for 23 years, I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. While believing I was an effective breast cancer advocate for all those years, I now see the world through a different lens – and it has only strengthened my passion for Komen’s mission.

    My diagnosis has renewed my concern for the many underserved women without insurance who face a breast cancer diagnosis alone.  I continue my work with my local Komen Affiliate to provide uninsured women with services.  I also serve as a Komen Advocate in Science to further Komen’s promise to energize the sciences to find the cures.

    Having served as a Komen research reviewer, I probably know more about a “triple negative” diagnosis than most women and the magnitude of the diagnosis. But I believe all women need to be better educated about their breast cancer in order to be their own best advocate.

    Currently, I serve as Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of the Wichita Medical Research and Education Foundation.  This position allows me to be responsible not only for its day-to-day operations, but also to plan for future ventures into medical research and education in the Wichita and Kansas communities so I can make an impact for many future generations of women to come.

    Read other impact stories here.

  • Breast Cancer Research in the Americas: New Partnerships in Breast Cancer Control and Prevention in North, Central and South America

    Guest post from Catherine Oliveros, DrPH, MPH, Susan G. Komen for the Cure Regional Director, International

    Breast cancer is one of the leading cancers in the world, yet there is a scarcity of data on Latinos and breast cancer, as the majority of breast cancer research has been conducted in North America and Europe.  Expanding the pool of researchers, patients and programs to other countries, especially those less developed, is increasingly seen as the next critical step in the fight against breast cancer.  As such, Susan G. Komen for the Cure and partners like the National Cancer Institute (NCI) have made significant financial and programmatic commitments in Latin America to promote research, and outreach and education about breast cancer control and prevention.  As evidence-based institutions, our efforts also include consideration of breast cancer control and prevention interventions in the U.S. aimed at Latino populations for adaptation in Latin American settings.  These efforts have resulted in several new and dynamic research partnerships among a wide variety of public health stakeholders in these nations.

    The Latin American Symposia at the 12th International Congress of Behavioral Medicine (ICBM) held last month in Budapest, Hungary brought together partners with two things in common – a commitment to improving disparities among Latina women and Susan G. Komen.

    Dr. Amelie Ramirez, who chaired the symposia and was also featured as one of the amazing individuals in Komen’s “31 Days of Impact,” presented her work; a multi-site research study conducted among low income US Latinas to examine breast cancer “time to diagnosis” disparities.  As a result of similar disparities faced by women across the border Dr. Karla Unger highlighted, from a public health perspective, the benefits of using promotoras to increase access to breast cancer services among low –income women in Mexico.  Dr. Jorge Gomez of the NCI described the multi-national breast cancer genetics research and biospecimen repository development happening in Central and South America, and I was able to discuss other Komen supported research and public health projects as well as unique partnerships currently underway in the region.

    Wonderful things are happening and we are proud to share our efforts and mission every chance we get!  Last month it was Eastern Europe; next month it will be somewhere else.  We will continue to work together and make great strides towards ensuring that where a woman lives doesn’t determine whether she lives.

  • 31 Days of Impact – Day 5, Dr. Amelie Ramirez

    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. AMELIE RAMIREZ, SAN ANTONIO— Advocate, Scientific Advisor

    “My mission, which aligns with that of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, is to ensure that Latinos across the world receive timely, high quality cancer treatment, and go on to live long and fruitful lives.”

    “Now that cancer has overtaken heart disease as the leading cause of death for Latinos, we really need to step up our research and outreach efforts to fight cancer. Latinos are the largest U.S. minority group, so it is imperative to continue to inform Latinas and all women about what they need to do to maintain breast health and what services are available to them in their community.”

    “I hope that we will continue to decrease these disparities so that more survivors can live on to tell their stories.”

    As a Latina, I am disheartened by the health disparities in my community – especially when it comes to breast cancer. In fact, breast cancer is the number one cancer killer of Latinas. Latina women have a lower incidence of breast cancer than white women, but are more likely to be diagnosed with larger tumors and late-stage breast cancer. My mission, which aligns with that of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, is to ensure that Latinas across the world receive timely, high-quality cancer treatment, and go on to live long and fruitful lives. As a member of the Susan G. Komen Scientific Advisory Board, I am able to make significant contributions to advancing the field of breast cancer research while continuing to further this mission.

    Over the past 30 years, I have directed many research programs focused on human and organizational communication to reduce disparities – differences in cancer rates and survival among Latinas. This has been my focus at the Institute for Health Promotion Research (IHPR) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and as the associate director of cancer health disparities at the Cancer Therapy and Research Center. Much of this research has been supported by Susan G. Komen in the form of funds totaling $1.3 million ($950,000 in SAB grants and more than $350,000 in population-specific research program grants in 2000 and 2005), for which I am truly thankful.

    I’ve worked with some of the most passionate people, and together we have developed unique health communication models and interventions that have contributed to reducing Latina cancer death rates and increasing Latina screening, clinical trial participation and healthy lifestyles. We even spearheaded the use of bilingual, bicultural navigators – community health workers who help Latinas navigate the complex world of cancer care.

    I am certainly proud of these accomplishments but believe we need to continue to inform all women about what they need to do to take care of their breast health and to let them know the services that are available to them in their communities.

    Early detection is critical. Only 46.5 percent of Hispanic women age 40 or older are getting yearly mammograms.  This means that a woman who hasn’t been screened for breast cancer may not arrive for treatment until their cancers are at late stages, and treatment options are limited.

    I am most concerned about access to health care for uninsured and low-income women and this is an area of focus for Susan G. Komen as well. The need is critical in the Latina community: Latinos represent about 19% of the population in the U.S., but account for about 30 percent of the uninsured. Komen is funding programs to get low-income and uninsured women into screening and treatment: we must have doctors open their doors to the great need in this group.

    By continuing to educate the Latino community about prevention, timely screening, diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care, I hope that we will continue to decrease these disparities so that more survivors can live on to tell their stories.

    Read other impact stories here.

  • Race for the Cure Recap – From Texas to New Jersey, 13 Races Kick Off NBCAM

    Twelve different Affiliates kicked of National Breast Cancer Awareness month this past weekend with some amazing Race events! Enthusiasm was in no short supply as thousands of participants gathered in their pink to support their local Komen Affiliate.

    Catching up from a couple of weeks ago, we definitely didn’t forget the 15th annual Evansville Tri-State Race, which took place on Sept. 20 and had more than 14,000 participants. Highlights included the Survivor Parade of Pink led by the First Lady and Mayor Lloyd Winnecke. The famous Boom Squad drum corps added to the festivities of the survivor celebration.  The Evansville Courier & Press highlights the many ways participants enjoyed the Race.

    Last Saturday, Amarillo hosted their 22nd annual Race for the Cure, covered by Amarillo.com. The website also profiled Mark Goldstein of New Jersey – a male breast cancer survivor who marked the Amarillo Race as his 223rd Race to participate in since he began in 1992!

    Records were set by the South Dakota Race for the Cure!  The move to Sioux Falls for 2012 saw a huge crowd gathered at Falls Park, the new venue.  Everyone had a great time whether it was running, walking, Kids for the Cure or the entertainment.  The Affiliate has already met their fundraising goal and more survivors than ever joined the crowd!

    The Komen Greater Cincinnati Race drew approximately 19,000 participants Saturday morning and is expected to raise nearly $700,000! WLWT shares the stories of survivors and images from the Race. Cincinnati.com and WCPO also cover the inspiring day.

    The skies may have been gray in Denton, TX, but the North Texas Race for the Cure certainly turned the scene pink. Wet weather did not dampen the enthusiasm of the 2,000 participants that came out for the 2nd annual Race on Saturday. Denton Mayor Mark Burroughs welcomed all prior to the start of the 5K, and Executive Director of the North Texas Affiliate described it as “an amazing day.” The Denton Record-Chronicle and NBC 5 covered the event.

    Although a light drizzle accompanied Race day for the SC Mountains to Midlands Affiliate, the spirits were still high. With over 4,100 participants, a new survivor area and new race course, downtown Greenville, SC, “was washed over in a pink wave of celebration and excitement,” said Bill Sorochak, Executive Director of the Affiliate.

    A sunny morning greeted the runners, walkers, and survivors in Kearney, NE for the 2nd annual Central Nebraska Race for the Cure. The Race took place on the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus which hosted more than 1,300 participants. The University’s baseball team participated in full uniform to show their support for the survivors, and the Affiliate’s ED reported that the event had runners and walkers from 12 states. Kearny Hub shows highlights from the day.

    Despite a little rain in the morning, the 19th annual Komen Northeast Louisiana Race went off without a hitch. Thousands of people dressed in pink (and some even dressed as zombies!) descended on Forsythe Park last Saturday. The Monroe News Star covers the event and shares some great photos as well.

    The Wabash Valley Race committee could not have ordered a better day for Saturday’s Race. Participants enjoyed the new venue at Indiana State University’s Memorial Stadium, and registration exceeded that of last year! Head Women’s Basketball Coach, Teri Moren, served as Honorary Chair, and her team helped with the Race warm-up and then assisted the remainder of the morning. The event also featured a 1 mile walk which was held on the Indiana-shaped trail surrounding the stadium, appropriately lined with 6800 pink flags. See highlights from the event on WTHITV.com.

    More than 3,000 participants gathered in downtown Waco at Heritage Square last Saturday for the 12th annual Komen Central Texas Race. Event Chair April Pullen spoke of the camaraderie in the air at the Race saying, “All ages, sizes and races come together for one thing and it’s for a cure for breast cancer.” The Baylor Lariat and WacoTrib.com cover the Race day.

    In Wichita, a rainbow appeared as the first of the 3 events kicked off at the Mid-Kansas Race for the Cure.  More than 9,400 participants raised more than half a million dollars as of Race day!  Peggy Johnson, long-time Komen advocate and activist served as the event’s Honorary Race Chair. The Wichita Eagle features the stories of survivor Lois Carthen and others who are passionate about ending this disease.

    Nearly 10,000 people enjoyed a glorious Race morning in Central and South Jersey.  The day started with a moving survivor procession that included a spectacular dove release. The race wound through the Six Flags Hurricane Harbor water park, where racers and walkers enjoyed up close views of the water slides. There was also a surprise engagement during the survivor ceremony (which the Affiliate to coordinate), when a man brought his girlfriend – a breast cancer survivor – up on stage and asked her to marry him! She happily said “yes!” MyCentralJersey.com tells more stories from the event.

    “Fabulous” was the word used by the Northwest Ohio Affiliate’s Executive Director Mary Westphal to describe Sunday’s Race. The 16,500 participants enjoyed a beautiful, sunny day. A fun highlight of the morning was casting votes for the favorite team t-shirt. Race participants talked with NorthwestOhio.com and The Toledo Blade about their passion for the cause and the importance of this event.

    The Chattanooga Affiliate reported that their 13th annual Race “was fabulous this weekend… We had beautiful weather and a great time was had by all.” The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported that as runners and walkers streamed past the finish line, volunteers handed them light pink ribbons, while survivors received dark pink roses. “You can never have too much pink until there’s a cure,” Affiliate President Sarah Bowen said. WRCB shares more from the event.

    The Races taking place this weekend are sure to have their own amazing stories as well, so stay tuned for more Race recaps!

  • 31 Days of Impact – Day 4, Jamie Ledezma

    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.

    JAMIE LEDEZMA, FRESNO, CALIFORNIA – Breast Cancer Survivor, Advocate

    “The moment the words “You have cancer” were said, I took out my pen and pad and started asking questions. I was on a mission to get information, to make sure my baby would be born healthy and happy.”

    “I got involved with Komen because they are on the front lines advocating for the most important issues for survivors like me – in states like California, for instance, many women rely on the state’s screening program, which ensures that a lost job or lost insurance doesn’t result in a lost life.”

    “Komen’s California Affiliates are actively lobbying to sustain funding for specific programs that will make sure underserved women have access to screening and early detection of breast cancer.”

    My husband and I got to hear our baby’s heartbeat for the first time at a routine doctor’s appointment in February of 2007. Everything checked out and looked great until my doctor asked whether I had any questions. “As a matter of fact, I do,” I replied. “What is this lump? Is it a milk gland, already?”

    On Valentine’s Day, our worst fears were confirmed: I had triple negative breast cancer. I was 14 weeks pregnant and 27 years old. On that day, every goal and timeline I had carefully mapped out for our family and my career were thrown out the window. Now my focus was only on the fight to make sure my baby would be born both healthy and happy; my own health and survival were secondary. One week after my diagnosis I began chemotherapy. My oncologist prescribed a cocktail of medications that were known to be safe for the fetus because the drugs didn’t pass the placental barrier. But that reassurance was difficult to grasp while sitting in an infusion chair for six hours.

    I also had to deal with so many unexpected issues: disability and life insurance, pre-existing conditions, the lifetime and annual limits of health insurance policies, and coverage appeals. As a former insurance defense attorney, I was better equipped to handle these than the dozens of other young cancer patients I met, such as the single mom who lost her job at a gas station because of her treatment schedule, and the couple who lost their home because of crushing medical costs.

    Our baby had nearly six months of chemotherapy with me before his early arrival on July 14, 2007. Blake was born at a healthy 5 pounds, 9 ounces, and with a full head of hair – more than I had, at the time, because of the drugs! A week after his delivery, I returned to my aggressive chemotherapy schedule for another three months. After that came a bilateral mastectomy and a series of six reconstructive and prophylactic surgeries.

    When Blake was five months old, I returned to work. I felt as though I had left work on cancer’s terms, and I wanted to go back to work on my terms – and that meant as soon as possible, even though I still wore a wig, faced major surgeries, and had an infant at home.

    As part of my continuing education requirements for my license, I attended a cancer rights conference. Sitting there talking with 200 other attorneys, advocates, patients, and healthcare providers, I realized that I could become a cancer rights attorney, coupling my professional experience as a lawyer with my personal passion for helping others who struggle with cancer.

    Now I work as a cancer rights attorney at the Cancer Legal Resource Center and seize every opportunity to educate others by sharing my experience as a young breast cancer survivor. I also proudly serve as the Past-Chair of Public Policy Chair for the California Collaborative of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, as a member of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure National Public Policy Advisory Council and was recently appointed to the California Breast and Cervical Cancer Advisory Council for the State of California to help ensure underserved women have access to life-saving early detection services.

    Read other impact stories here.