Today, we’d like to share a message from Lorraine H., Deputy Fire Chief for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department and Susan G. Komen San Diego’s 2014 Honorary Breast Cancer Survivor.
As Susan G. Komen San Diego’s 2014 Honorary Breast Cancer Survivor for the Susan G. Komen San Diego Race for the Cure®on November 2, and a Susan G. Komen 3-Day walker, it is my goal to bring awareness to this disease. The critical message is that one in eight women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. In addition, as an African American woman, I am concerned with the disparity that exists in African American women diagnosed with breast cancer compared to other races. Breast cancer in African American women is the most common cancer and second leading cause of cancer deaths. Although incidence rates are lower in African American women, the mortality rate is 41% higher than their Caucasian counterparts. I commend the Susan G. Komen California Coalition for recognizing this and taking action in the form of an initiative to address the disparities at both the system and individual levels.
Having survived breast cancer, it is my responsibility to give back to the community. If I can use my voice, my face, my story, my experience to get the message out about the benefits of early detection through mammograms and screenings while providing information about the resources that are available through Komen, then I believe that I will be doing what I’ve been called to do.
I hope by sharing my story I will do three things:
- ENCOURAGE women to advocate for their health. Women that are due for a mammogram must get one. We’ve all heard excuses such as “I don’t have time” or “it hurts.” None of these excuses are acceptable and none of them are worth dying for.
My cancer was found through a mammogram. I could not feel a lump. I went in for my annual mammogram and soon after I was asked to return to the office for a follow-up. The message said it was nothing to worry about, so I didn’t. I didn’t return for a follow up until several months later. Because I did not have a family history of breast cancer, I thought I was not at risk. Fact is, data reports that 70% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history.
When I finally did return for a follow-up mammogram, and after a subsequent ultrasound and biopsy, I was devastated to learn four days later that I had breast cancer.
I want women to learn from my experience and not make the same mistakes.
- INSPIRE women by sharing my cancer journey. Four months before being diagnosed with breast cancer, I was diagnosed with diabetes. Diabetes runs in my family. Devastated by this diagnosis and not wanting to go on diabetes medication or insulin, I chose to go through a medically supervised weight loss program. Six weeks into the program and after losing 35 pounds, I was diagnosed with cancer. Throughout my surgery, treatment and beyond, I have managed to maintain the weight loss by following a healthy diet and strict daily exercise regimen. Because of the lifestyle I’ve chosen, I am proud to say that I am diabetes and cancer-free!
- MOTIVATE everyone regardless of the challenges or adversities you face, to focus on the positive and always try to do WHAT YOU CAN DO to BE THE BEST THAT YOU CAN BE every single day. Going through tough times builds inner strength and character. I have been a firefighter for 24 years and advanced through the ranks from firefighter to deputy chief. Those are significant accomplishments, by anyone’s standards, for an African American woman in a predominantly male profession. However, nothing compares to the accomplishment of surviving breast cancer.
With the help of God, my doctors and my support network, I fought cancer and won. My mantra throughout my journey was “I will come out on the other end of this a better person.” I have, but I’m not done. It’s a continuous process and I choose to make the most out of every day.
My one-year cancer journey culminated by successfully finishing the 2013 Komen 3-Day in San Diego. It was seven months after my last chemotherapy treatment, and I was still suffering from some side effects. Despite that, nine amazing friends (fellow firefighters and friends) finished every step of the 60-mile journey by my side. Between team members and supporters we had more than 20 people rooting for us – as well as the entire San Diego community! We couldn’t have done it without them.
The feeling of accomplishment was amazing and giving back in such a bold way was even more rewarding than I could have ever expected. As I stepped into PETCO Park at the end of the walk, I was overwrought with emotion. It felt as though all of my suffering, physically and emotionally, was over and I could begin my life anew. I’ve always wanted to do the 3-Day but, like many others, the fundraising daunted me.
The entire group of 11 walkers raised the money through multiple FUNdraisers. I emphasize FUN because we really did have a good time raising money together. Our 3-Day team continues to grow this year and we all have people we are walking for.
This is a cause I truly believe in and as long as my legs can walk, this is how I will pay it forward. I knew I would do the 3-Day one day but nobody knew how soon and under what circumstances it would finally become my reality!