"Pink has become my color of hope"
In the last of our series looking at some of the faces behind Race for the Cure, we share the moving and inspiring story of Julie Aguirre.
When we put a call out for stories from supporters earlier this year, one stood out to us: that of Julie Aguirre. In a waiting room at a chemo appointment, she put pen to paper to write an inspiring account of her experience with breast cancer: her diagnosis, the friendship with a co-worker that helped her through it, and the fact that pink is now her favorite color - one of solidarity and hope.
We were so impressed with Julie's story, and writing, that we contacted the Arizona Daily Star. They immediately agreed to publish it. The piece appeared in the newspaper as an Opinion piece on Sunday, March 10.
Here is her story:
"My mother died of breast cancer in March 1980, two years after she was diagnosed. I was 17 years old. My mom was only 43.
Not only did her death leave a hole in my heart and my life, but also a fear that my life would be cut short by breast cancer. To me a breast cancer diagnosis meant a quick death.
At 23, I had a cyst removed from my right breast. It was benign.
Fast-forward to 2011. My co-worker Ruth and I run into each other and she comments that it was almost too much for her to lug her laptop across campus. When I ask why, I learn of her breast cancer diagnosis a few months earlier. But unlike my remembrances of my mother's illness, Ruth is informed, proactive and very upbeat.
Little did I know then how important my meeting with Ruth was. Nine months later I received a callback on my annual mammogram. Unlike my previous callbacks this one included an ultrasound and a very serious conversation with the radiologist. The word cancer wasn't said aloud, but it was clear the doctor felt certain it was breast cancer.
But thanks to Ruth's upbeat personal story I didn't instantly panic. Instead, I got hold of Ruth and picked her brain, asking her: "How did you make treatment decisions? What insurance do you have? What do I need to ask? What do I need to know?"
Added to my concerns: Five out of the seven women on my mom's side of our family have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Lying on the table during the breast biopsy, I had specific questions I asked the doctor and nurse.
Since then I've had a double mastectomy, completed chemotherapy, and I have a very positive prognosis. I complete my Herceptin treatment before the 2013 Southern Arizona Race for the Cure next Sunday!
I am so grateful for all the brave women who participated in clinical trials from 1980, when my mom died, until my 2011 diagnosis. I have completed one clinical trial and am in the midst of a second one.
I am also grateful for Ruth and the other courageous, optimistic breast cancer survivors like her whom I have met on my journey. Ladies and fellow survivors: Your laughter, encouragement, questions and advice have made my journey easier. I will pass on your wisdom and hope by reaching out to other breast cancer survivors for the rest of my life.
Pink has once again become my favorite color - a color of solidarity, with the many brave breast cancer survivors who are now my sisters. Pink has become a color of hope that breast cancer will not be something that my daughter and granddaughter have to face."
“I constantly had the feeling that I would be 21 and parentless in the back of my head.”
In the latest of our series looking at some of the faces behind Race for the Cure, two of our most well-known 'Faces' - Brigetta Barrett and her mother Lottie - discuss winning and the fear of losing.
Brigetta Barrett knows all about winning. A college athlete and now Olympic Silver Medalist, the UA high jumper has had a run of success.
But she came close to losing too, when her mom Lottie was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Lottie Barrett says the diagnosis wasn’t a shock to her. Her mother had had breast cancer, and when Lottie was carrying Brigetta and her twin sister, Shawn-de, she had to have a breast lump biopsied. “I knew it was coming. I was prepared for it. And I had no doubt I would make it through,” says Lottie, who will be at Sunday's Race with her daughter, who is the Honorary Race Chair.
Because of her family history of breast cancer, Lottie was diligent about getting annual mammograms. When she got a call-back on a screening in January 2011, she said medical staff told her to wait. “They didn’t want to do a biopsy, and they kept changing my next appointment. They told me to wait six months.”
By the time she saw a doctor again, “you could look at my breast and see the little lumps,” says Lottie, 59. She was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer that June.
That’s why Lottie is now an advocate not only for regular mammograms, but also for women taking charge of their own health. “Don’t just wait for the doctors. If it’s not what you like, you need to speak out. If you don’t know how to do it, get a patient advocate.”
Because Brigetta was already in training for the London Olympics, Lottie decided not to tell her daughter straight away after that first mammogram. “I didn’t want my situation to hurt her success. I knew this was her shot,” says Lottie.
However, Brigetta was told as soon as Lottie began treatment, and the UA undergrad says she believes her mother’s experience brought the family closer together. Lottie had a lumpectomy, followed by chemotherapy and radiation. Brigetta says her mom managed to stay positive throughout her treatment, finding new hairstyles and scarves to wear when her hair fell out, and making new friends at her treatment sessions where she lives in Texas.
Lottie’s treatment ended just before she attended the Olympics to see her daughter take silver in the high jump. Brigetta talked to KUAZ 89.1 FM about the “pretty jarring” feeling of training with her mom’s illness hanging over her. “I constantly had the feeling that I would be 21 and parentless in the back of my head,” says Brigetta, now 22.
As for Lottie, she says Brigetta reminds her of her own mother. “Everybody loved my mom, and Brigetta has a lot of my mother’s characteristics. She was quiet and humble like Brigetta, and she sang a lot. That’s where Brigetta’s voice comes from.”
You can hear Brigetta sing the National Anthem on Race Day, and her mother Lottie will be looking on – just as she was at the Olympics.
In the sixth of our series looking at some of the faces behind the Race for the Cure, we talk to Erin Prater who has been involved in the Southern Arizona Race for the Cure since its beginnings.
Erin (middle) with some team members and friends.
The fact that this year's Race for the Cure falls on St. Patrick's Day doesn't phase Erin Prater. She and her team, Tucson Wild Bunch, will celebrate both occasions by tie-dyeing their Race T-shirts green.
In fact, it would take a lot for Erin to not take part. Her connections to Race for the Cure go way back to High School, when she began volunteering for Susan G. Komen for the Cure Southern Arizona.
The non-profit spoke to her, she says. It was focused on women, and the figure that one in eight women get diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime hit her hard.
She formed a Race for the Cure team and took part in the very first Race in 1999. Apart from a few Races along the way, she has been a regular participant, as well a team captain, ever since.
Erin, now 31, has no family experience of breast cancer, but since her team, Tucson Wild Bunch, has grown, some team members have connections to the disease. Walking with her will be her niece, 9, and nephew, 5, who began participating at a young age.
"This is something I believe in, this is something I feel passionate about," says Erin. "I see these women who are survivors, or families who lost somebody, and I see how they keep going on. It gives me hope."
Fundraising last year and this year has not been easy, Erin admits. The economy has restricted donations, and the Planned Parenthood debacle with Komen National last year didn't help. Still, last year the team had 25 people and raised $3000.
Erin remains undeterred and very attached to the cause. That one in eight "could be any one of us," she says. "People have no idea until they go to a Race. I go there and it moves me."
* Join Erin and her team on March 17th at the UA Mall. Register right now at www..komensaz.org
In the fifth of our series looking at some of the faces behind the Race for the Cure, we talk to Maria Mejia, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at Stage IV.
Maria with her son, Joey, and daughter, MariaTeresa
Maria Mejia was diligent about getting her annual mammograms. So when she started to get back pain in the months in between screenings, she didn't relate it to anything to do with breast cancer.
It began with back pain, and kept getting worse. "It hurt when I got a massage, and even when people tried to hug me," says Maria, 55 and a mother of three.
She says she remembers noticing a pink rash under one of her breasts during that time. "But I didn't think anything of it because I was always looking for lumps."
By the time she got properly examined, she discovered that cancer had spread from her breast to her bones. She was already at Stage IV. "When I walked into the doctor’s office I was already halfway to heaven," quips the upbeat teacher of Second Graders.
Chemotherapy began shortly afterwards. A mastectomy followed, then radiation. Maria finished her treatment in October.
Last year Maria and her family took part in their first Race for the Cure. She'll be there again on March 17th, walking with her family at the UA Mall.
Maria says she is open with the parents of her students about her experience. "I tell them there are places to go for free mammograms if they can't afford one."
Komen Southern Arizona's grants turn donations from Race for the Cure into programs for under- and uninsured women.
Even though Maria had health insurance through her teaching job, because she took so much time off school that she went over her allocated sick days. Friends and co-workers held fundraisers to help her with her medical bills.
Even months after treatment has ended, Maria says her body is still catching up. "I'm pretty tired. I get up, get ready, go to work, and its like 'When is the time to go home?'"
Maria filming a PSA at KVOA News 4 Tucson
* You can see Maria on our Race for the Cure PSA's being broadcast on KVOA News 4 Tucson.
In the fourth of our series looking at some of the faces behind the Race for the Cure, we talk to competitive runner and long-time participant Tia Accetta.
“I’m a pretty competitive person and I love a good win,” says Tia Accetta, who was first female in last year’s Southern Arizona Race for the Cure, with a time of 18 minutes, 10 seconds. But that’s not what keeps her coming back. Tia says Race Day is about more than who runs the fastest.
“My favorite part of Race Day is watching the survivors parade during the awards ceremony. They are like warriors, proud and strong. Watching the survivors and seeing so many tributes to those who didn't survive makes quite an impression.”
Tia has won the Southern Arizona Race for the Cure a few times, and husband Randy Accetta is a long-time Race announcer. “Every year we walk away talking about the great energy and spirit the event inspires, not about how fast anybody ran. I am reminded to live my life with bravery,appreciation and perspective,” says Tia.
Tia and Randy (pictured above) met through Tucson’s running community eight years ago, and dedicate most of their free time to running-related projects. Tia has a Masters in Education and until recently taught the deaf and hard of hearing.
Randy teaches at the University of Arizona (the site of this year’s Race on March 17th), is involved with Southern Arizona Roadrunners, and is part of the team behind events like Meet Me at Maynards. He also travels the country teaching people how to be running coaches.
This year the couple decided to formalize their different running projects under a business called Run Tucson.
“I've left my job and we're working on developing children's running opportunities and some travel-running excursions. We like to think that adding running to just about any activity makes it better,” says Tia.
* Have you signed up for this year’s Race yet? Click here to join competitive and non-competitive runners on March 17th at the UA Mall.
In the third of our series looking at some of the faces behind Race for the Cure, we profile the company behind our weekly Race Training Series.
Lydia Kennedy took a gamble when she traded in her job in corporate human resources to launch a business that deals in new and used active wear. But athletics has always been a passion for Lydia and, she says, “I was ready for a change.”
“It came to me in a dream and a vision,” says Lydia of the idea behind ReActivate the business, which celebrates its second birthday in early February.
It operates on the same principle as other clothing and book exchanges. Customers can buy new and gently used active wear, and they can also sell new and used gear to the store, for cash or trade. The store also accepts donations.
“People sometimes have the mentality that they’re old, sweaty clothes but we ask that they are like new and pre-washed,” says Lydia. And many times the clothes that are sold still have their tags on, or have never been used. They may be lying in the back of a wardrobe, a mistaken purchase, or a gift that doesn’t work, says Lydia.
Cancer has reared its ugly head several times in Lydia’s family. That includes a grandmother with breast cancer. She says healthy eating, exercise and weight loss has helped family members stay cancer-free, or in remission.
“I’ve always been an athlete,” she says, taking part in state championship-level soccer, running and discus events. “I found something that I was good at that I loved.” Now, her favorite activities are cycling, running and hiking.
She believes in bringing healthy living and fitness to everyone, and hopes her business can address the concerns of many people she hears who say they can’t afford to get fit. “A lot of people say they can’t afford the clothing that’s needed. I’m here to say ‘Yes you can.”
Her plan is to open more ReActivate stores in Tucson, and then move to other cities and states.
**Please note change of location**
In the second of our series looking at some of the faces behind Race for the Cure, we profile "Muslims Care Too!," a group that became so much more than a Race team.
A few weeks later the group began selling home-made baked goods outside of the Islamic Center of Tucson to raise sponsorship money for members. These 'Friday Tables' became a weekly tradition, and more members were recruited through Facebook, and talks to the mosque's congregation. In the end they recruited 107 members to Tucson Muslims for the Cure, and won an award for biggest non-professional team at the Race for the Cure.
"Some saw it as an unconventional effort," says Ehab Tamimi, another of the team's members. But that was part of the point. He wanted to use the Race team to overturn some misconceptions.
In today's political climate, the word "Muslim" can have negative connotations, says Ehab. "There are associations that lack any indication of the humanity and caring nature of the Muslim people. Whereas, in reality, Islam encourages community service and taking care of the people who are Muslim and non-Muslim alike. Charity and taking care of the sick is mentioned countless times in scripture.
"Therefore, it is necessary to be more visible in the community with proactive mottos like "Muslims Care Too!" to instill the sense of humanity and normalize the word "Muslim" in everyday life, so as to encourage interfaith dialogue, cooperation and harmony."
Maryam says she was inspired for personal reasons: family members and friends who had breast cancer, some who were undergoing treatment as they were forming their team. And there was the matter of the January 8th Tucson shootings as well. Gabe Zimmerman, an aide to Gabrielle Giffords and one of those who lost his life that day, was a friend and classmate of her son's. She says she wanted to encourage community building, and to give something back.
Give something back they have, because the Muslim Race team carried on past Race Day 2012. After last year's Race the team brainstormed on other community service activities. Since then they have begun a community garden through the city of Tucson by renting plots. They have raised money to provide undergarments for children under foster care through AVIVA. They have made visits to Catalina Village Assisted Living, and donated funds to Pima Meals on Wheels. And the team raised more than $3,000.00 to purchase and fill 195 back packs with school supplies for children, through Noor Women's Association.
It's been a rewarding experience, says Maryam. "Once awareness spread throughout the community, we learned more about our community's breast cancer survivors."
Adds Ehab: "Disease does not know religion or ethnicity. It is within the religious creed and etiquette to visit neighbors who fall ill and check up on them. Through expanding this simple concept, we could help make a bigger difference in the lives of the men and women afflicted with breast cancer and spread awareness about this illness for prevention and treatment."
This year, the team--renamed Muslims Care Too! - hopes to break its record, and it's looking forward to even more community-building ahead.
For a story on the team's open letter to President Obama, click here
In the first of our series looking at some of the faces behind Race for the Cure, we profile long-time volunteer Liane Wong. She's become so involved behind the scenes, she hasn't ever taken part in a Race!
"It definitely takes a village," says Liane Wong, a local real estate agent and long-time volunteer with Race for the Cure.
Liane began helping out back in 2001 when the Race was just two years old. A friend asked her to help with food and beverage, and although she didn't know much about Komen at the time, she wanted to volunteer some of her time.
Since then Liane has also helped out and led teams with food and beverage, the Komen Shop, parking, and equipment - which ranges from barricades to portable bathrooms.
Race Day volunteers run into the hundreds, with literally armies of people, many sub-committees, and meetings that fill conference rooms in the run-up to Race Day.
”I am always amazed at the dedication, persistence, and willingness to help of all the volunteers on the committee," says Liane. "The enormous amount of effort that everyone puts in should amaze everyone who comes to the race."
When Liane started as a Komen volunteer, she had no links to breast cancer.
Then about four years ago her younger sister was diagnosed. She had a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery and, reports Liane, is doing great today.
What is Liane's favorite part of Race Day? "Oddly enough I have never participated in the race but I would love to some day. I have to say the start line is always exciting, but for sure the Survivor Ceremony is the best since it is the reason why we volunteer for the cause. It is so uplifting and beautiful!
"As the years go on the number of survivors on the stage has grown and the range of ages has diversified as well. Also when I see a family holding a banner in memory of someone who has passed, the tears start up!"
This year, she hopes for "lots and lots participants who rally to the cause". Like the other volunteers and Komen staff, she's excited about it being the 15th anniversary year.
Would you like to volunteer at this year's Race? Click Here to sign up!
Race for the Cure 2013 is sponsored by