by Katherine Stevens
The leaves are changing color, the wind is picking up and the First Coast is getting ready to kick breast cancer to the curb. For over two decades October has come to represent “Breast Cancer Awareness Month.” And with a little help from our community, North Florida is becoming more and more aware of this life-changing diagnosis.
It’s not something you can plan for. It’s not something you expect can happen to you. But the truth is, an estimated 175,000 woman are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. And according to the American Cancer Society, approximately 40,460 women died from breast cancer last year alone. Only lung cancer accounts for more cancer deaths in women.
Here in the Sunshine State we have our own staggering statistics. Did you know that breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed among women in Florida? The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 11,850 new cases of invasive breast cancer in Florida during 2008 and about 2,760 women will die from the disease. Those aren’t just numbers- they’re friends, sisters, mothers. And these statistics hit close to home for many families in our community. So, as we enter October, Northeast Florida is opening many doors of opportunity for the First Coast! There are fundraisers, special events and projects throughout Jacksonville to help fight for a cure.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) has been fighting the battle against breast cancer (specifically) since 1972. They’ve raised over $323 million, more than any other voluntary public health organization. Their premier event is Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, a 5k walk in three different sides of town: Orange Park, Downtown and the Beaches. In Florida alone last year, 35,000 walkers raised more than $3.1 million to fund this fight. Talk about a lot of action! This year the walk will be held on Saturday, October 11th and will start at 9 am in all 3 locations.
On more than a national scale, there are people at home fighting too! As a Jacksonvillian, you’d probably be hard-pressed to find anyone in the area who doesn’t know Donna Deegan. As one of the head anchors for First Coast News, she’s been a friendly face in local television for years. In 1999, with microphone in hand, she opened up to our community about her unexpected news: she had stage 1 breast cancer.
“We’re not always as aware of these things,” she says, “until we have to face them ourselves.”
Through her struggles she spoke to countless numbers of women in the community fighting the same fight, but with more (financial) odds stacked against them. So, in 2003, Ms. Deegan started The Donna Foundation with the mission statement, “Caring for Women Living With Breast Cancer.” The goal of the foundation is to provide temporary financial support for women who are in active treatment for breast cancer, a “safety net” of sorts.
Julie Terrazzano, the Director for The Donna Foundation, says “We focus on the recipient that falls between the cracks and may be living paycheck to paycheck. Imagine a two-income family losing one of those paychecks for six to eight months. It becomes financially devastating.”
The Donna Foundation is pumped up for this month. Along with creative workshops, the foundation is sponsoring a Carnival Cruise to the Bahamas. They’re also celebrating the 2nd anniversary of the Think Pink Fundraiser, an event that raised over $10,000 last year. The event will be held at the Sawgrass Golf Resort in Ponte Vedra Beach on Wednesday October 22nd.
Jeannie Blaylock is another familiar face in local news and breast cancer prevention. Her 16-year-running “Buddy Check 12” encouraged women to overcome breast cancer with early detection. In fact, Ms. Blaylock is the first person in Jacksonville to win a Peabody Award due to her contribution to this great cause.
Now she’s starting a new forefront in breast cancer awareness. The new project is called the “Mammogram Hotline.” It’s a way to help every woman on the First Coast get a mammogram, even if they can’t afford one. All of the proceeds are going to the Komen for the Cure foundation (the ones who brought us The Race for the Cure), who will put the money into grants for free mammograms. Episcopal High School’s volleyball team is just one group getting involved, having already raised over $1,000 (which means 10 free mammograms).
Since the hotline started, Ms. Blaylock has heard from 10 to 12 people within the last week alone whose initial breast cancer has spread to other parts of their body. No insurance and no funds are the big excuses. One woman, Zelena, saw it spread to her spine and become stage 4 cancer. Something that could’ve been diagnosed early has turned into what could be a death sentence.
But it’s not just money that people can offer to help find a cure- time can go a long way! The Race for the Cure has slowly become a staple in Jacksonville, and this year it’s celebrating its 14th anniversary. Last year their goal was to have 6,000 participants and to raise $300,000. About 6,380 actually participated and they well-exceeded the $300,000 mark. It shows the true altruistic spirit that Jacksonvillians encompass. This year the 2008 North Florida Race for the Cure will be held on Saturday, October 18th at Metropolitan Park.
The American Cancer Society says that detecting breast cancer early, at its most treatable stage, can mean the difference between life and death. So, what can you do to stay on the track to prevention? The number one check-off would be your yearly mammogram. ACS recommends that all women 40 and older get a mammogram every year, and they offer “mammogram reminders,” an email reminding you to sign-up for your yearly mammogram (you can visit: cancer.org/mammogramreminder). Another tool is going straight to the source. Got questions? ACS has 24/7/365 access to free cancer information and support at 1-800-ACS-2345 and cancer.org. Just think, keeping informed could help save a life.
For more information on getting involved this month visit: The American Cancer Society (cancer.org); The Donna Foundation (donnahickenfoundation.org); Mammogram Hotline (firstcoastnews.com); Race for the Cure (komennorthflorida.org).
fighting the good fight
by Katherine Stevens