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Balboa Park is turning pink again

Posted: October 23rd, 2015 | Balboa Park, Feature, Featured | 1 Comment

Race for the Cure returns Nov. 1

By Hutton Marshall

Laura Farmer Sherman said the walk back to work from her doctor’s office was surreal. She was processing the fact that she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer after getting her first mammogram. She would soon be given just a 20 percent chance of survival.

“That was 11 years ago, and I woke up to kind of a new reality,” she said.

Sherman, 42 at the time, worked in the communications department at Sempra Energy. Her corporate gig provided good health insurance, but upon entering chemotherapy, she realized that this set her apart from many local women battling the disease.

A breast-cancer survivor gets some loving at a previous Komen San Diego Race for the Cure. (Photos courtesy of Komen San Diego)

A breast-cancer survivor gets some loving at a previous Komen San Diego Race for the Cure.
(Photos courtesy of Komen San Diego)

“It turned out that in my chemo unit, I was the only woman out of 35 who had insurance. And I did not think that was going on in this country.”

As she fought the disease, she resolved that were she to recover, she would work to improve this situation for other women: those lacking insurance, as well as those just needing a hot meal or to be driven across town.

“I remember thinking, ‘Well I have breast cancer, I might not make it, but I’m going to try to do something about this. And that’s what I decided to do.’”

Today, Sherman serves as the CEO of Komen San Diego, the county’s largest breast cancer nonprofit. She’s gearing up for the charity’s biggest annual event, Race for the Cure, on Nov. 1 in Balboa Park.

Every year, Komen San Diego provides over $1 million fighting breast cancer. A portion of the money they raise goes to the national Susan G. Komen organization, which oversees the organization’s enormous research arm, but Komen San Diego’s bread and butter is early-screening mammograms.

“In San Diego, three out of five women aren’t getting an annual mammogram, which is really important to get, because we know that when it’s found in its earliest stages, breast cancer has a 99 percent survival rate, but the key is you have to catch it early,” Sherman said.

A teary-eyed woman involved in Komen San Diego’s Race for the Cure.

A teary-eyed woman involved in Komen
San Diego’s Race for the Cure.

While Sherman said that this is their most critical service, it’s far from all they provide. Komen San Diego’s mantra, she added, is to fill any need inhibiting women in San Diego from receiving breast cancer treatment, an approach known as the “continuum of care.”

To ensure that Komen San Diego provides the service San Diegans actually need, they do a study every four years on trends related to breast cancer treatment in San Diego.

There is a worrying racial divide in breast cancer mortality rates, Sherman said. African-American women in San Diego have a much higher percent mortality rate than white women, despite only having a slightly higher late-stage incidence rate.

“African-American women have a 41 percent higher mortality rate than their Caucasian counterparts, and that is criminal,” Sherman said. “There is no reason that that should be happening, but in San Diego that is what’s happening.”

Rochelle Bradley, one of this year’s honorary survivors who will lead the walk at this year’s Race for the Cure, is no stranger to breast cancer. Aside from battling it for years, she lost her father to the disease, and several other relatives have been diagnosed too. In her experience, catching breast cancer as early as possible is the key to survival.

“I can’t stress how important it is to get a mammogram. How important it is to communicate with your doctor. How important it is to do your self-exams. Communicate with your doctors about your family history if you have any,” Bradley said.

At 8 a.m. Nov. 1, an estimated 20,000 San Diegans will once again show up to Balboa Park for this year’s Race for the Cure, which accounts for 78 percent of Komen San Diego’s budget revenues. It’s a vastly important event for the nonprofit, and, Sherman said, for breast cancer survivors as well.

Hoards of people show their support in the fight against breast cancer at a previous Race for the Cure.

Hoards of people show their support in the fight against breast cancer at a
previous Race for the Cure.

“The Race for the Cure allows thousands of people in San Diego to stand up for the women that can’t stand up for themselves,” Sherman said. “There are so many 5ks to choose from these days but this one is really special in the tremendous impact it makes in the community. … So we raise about $1.5 million, and all that money stays here to fund everything an uninsured woman and her family needs to make it through a breast cancer diagnosis, and survive and thrive.”

It’s not too late to register for the event, which you can do online or the morning of the event for $40 (which includes a T-shirt). For more information, visit komensandiego.org.

—Contact Hutton Marshall at jhuttonmarshall@gmail.com.

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