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The Battle & Beauty of Breast Cancer

PORTLAND FAMILY — September 2013 — Every fall the drums beat louder on behalf of organizations raising funds and awareness to fight breast cancer. A multi-front effort continues in fundraising, science and on a personal level to keep the focus on managing and eradicating the disease.BreastCancer.article-294x1024

Komen — Working Locally for a Cure

The season begins Sunday, September 15, with Komen Oregon’s Portland Race for the Cure. This mainstay event is the most popular of a wide range of outreach and funding efforts undertaken by Komen. Since the affiliate’s inception in 1991, Komen Oregon has invested over $20 million to fund screening services, breast health education, rural transportation assistance, survivor support and breast cancer research.

The organization works hard to stress where its money goes, since controversy arose more than a year ago after the national Komen office’s temporary defunding of Planned Parenthood, which provides screening services for women.

“We’re funding effective, local programs and research efforts,” explained Jeffrey Smith, Komen Oregon’s communications director. “Seventy-five percent of the money we raise goes to services in Oregon and Southwest Washington. Plus, the other 25 percent goes into a national research pool, a significant amount of which has been awarded right here in Oregon.”

This month, Komen Oregon announced that it has contributed $11.3 million in total funds awarded to Oregon Health & Science University in support of crucial breast cancer research. This includes a $225,000 grant to Komen Scholar Joe Gray, Ph.D., of Oregon Health & Science University, to investigate novel methods of controlling and combating metastatic breast cancer.

In addition to research, Komen funds a variety of essential programs, such as:

  • education about breast cancer and early detection;
  • information and support to breast cancer survivors and their families;
  • free mammograms for women without insurance or funds; and
  • transportation and treatment support for survivors.

“We’re also working to reach out to underserved communities, with programs such as our Latina Initiative,” Smith explained. “Breast Cancer is the leading cause of death among Latinas, and there are a variety of cultural impediments to getting checked early in the Hispanic community. So this is an important outreach for us, as well as similar efforts in the Russian community.”

This initiative aims to reduce the high rate of late-stage breast cancer diagnosis among Latina women in the NW Metro Region and SW Washington.

“When breast cancer is detected early, there’s a 98 percent five-year survival rate,” Smith said. When diagnosed late, survival rates decline to 24 percent.

In addition to the Race in Portland in September, and one in Eugene in October, Komen holds Lunch for the Cure, a fundraising event at the Portland Art Museum in April. Komen is a recipient of funds raised at the Sunriver Marathon, Rally for the Cure and Row for the Cure.

Breast Friends

Just as important as fundraising and research are efforts to help women and their families deal with the diagnosis. Breast Friends is an organization providing resources and support for women who have been diagnosed with breast, ovarian or other women’s cancers.

They also provide guidance to friends and family members who, frankly, just don’t know what to do to provide support.

“One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and the other seven will know her,” said Breast Friends co-founder Sharon Henifin. “Our goal is to reach the seven in order to help the one.”

When Henifin and co-founder Becky Olson were diagnosed with breast cancer themselves, they recall finding themselves feeling scared and isolated — as though they were fighting the disease alone. The women realized that friends, though well intentioned, were unsure of how to help.

They founded Breast Friends in 2000 in order to help women move through the process of coming to terms with their disease, and then receive the information to move forward. It also has programs to help friends and family provide better support.

Headquartered in Tigard, Ore., Breast Friends has launched chapters in Florida, Mississippi and iPennsylvania.

Its new retreat and workshop, Thriving Beyond Cancer, is for women transitioning from treatment to survivor. “When the doctors released me, and I was finished with my treatment, it was a strange place to be,” Henifin said. “Do I wait around for the cancer to come back? What do I do next?” The small groups provide a half-dozen women the support and encouragement they need.

Another outreach effort is the Bald is Beautiful initiative, which celebrates women going through chemotherapy and losing their hair. With Monique Marie photography and makeup professional Lauren Plumberg, the women are treated to a celebration of their beautiful side, even if they don’t always feel that way during treatment.

Keeping Heads Above Water to Help

“All of our services are free,” Henifin said. “When we spend money for advertising, we have to raise the money to do that. We’re hoping more people know about us so we’ll be able to help more women.

“When we started this, we had no clue what we were getting ourselves into, but we have a heart for what we’re doing.”

Obviously, fundraising is a big part of what they have to do to keep their heads above water.

In addition to the Pink Dress Gala on September 24 (see sidebar), Breast Friends is holding its Sizzling Hot Survivors and Friends luncheon at the DoubleTree Lloyd Center on October 25. Tickets are a very reasonable $22 for survivors and $32 for family and friends. Order at breastfriends.org/survivor-luncheon-tickets/

Henifin was unabashedly cheerful throughout our conversation, so I asked about her ability to be so upbeat in the face of so many unhappy situations. “It’s a fine balance,” she said. “When a woman calls, we drop everything, and we’re there 100 percent. Sure, she cries and hopefully we’ll soon get her laughing and moving forward. We’re here to give women the hope and inspiration to do that.”

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