Laura Farmer Sherman, President and CEO of Susan G. Komen San Diego was named Executive Director in 2007 and is currently celebrating 11 years as a breast cancer survivor. She is passionate about the mission of Susan G. Komen, which involved empowering women, ensuring quality care for all and engaging science to find cures.
Laura is most proud of the relationship she has developed in the community, bringing a wide range of partners together to help fund support for research–and to help those women and men in our county who are literally choosing between whether they can put food on the table or pay for a life-saving mammogram.
Recently, L’Chaim Magazine met with Sherman to discuss how the organization helps women throughout San Diego County and how we can support their efforts.
L’Chaim Magazine: Your bio describes you as a survivor of breast cancer and states you joined Susan G. Komen San Diego as a volunteer in 2004. Could you please elaborate on the circumstances and why this organization has meant so much to you personally?
Laura Farmer Sherman: After being diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer in 2003, I decided that if I got better, I would figure out a way out of the Egypt I had created of my own life. I realized that the old adage that no one ever died wishing they spent more time at the office was very true of my life. Imagine–I was 42 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I just honestly felt I didn’t have the time to get a mammogram (Komen recommends women of average risk receive a mammogram every year). Having breast cancer allowed me to change my life–and find the true source of happiness at least for me–being in service to others.
L’Chaim: What do you like most about your job at Susan G. Komen?
LFS: At the end of the day, every day, I know that we have helped a woman and her family right here in San Diego County. Susan G. Komen San Diego steps in when the world steps out. When an uninsured or underinsured woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, we provide for every step in the care continuum from free diagnostic mammograms and biopsies to temporary financial help, meal delivery, transportation and more.
L’Chaim: What are some things women can do which are preventative regarding breast cancer?
LFS: There are 4 things we can do, first, know your history. For instance, I learned I have the BRCA2 mutation, and so that informed prevention measures I could take including having my ovaries removed. Second, know what is normal for you. If you notice any changes, and that change is progressing or isn’t disappearing, have it checked out. Third, go to the doctor every year. (If you can’t afford it, there are many free and available services throughout San Diego County for mammograms and early screening, with information available by dialing 2-1-1.) Last, maintain a healthy lifestyle. Exercise, no smoking and eat a healthy, balanced diet.
L’Chaim: Regarding donations and fundraising, how much goes to the cause?
LFS: Komen San Diego is the County’s largest provider of free breast cancer services, treatments and support. We have more than $1.1 million at work today in the County. Of every dollar raised, 75 cents stays here to fund the local organizations that are providing direct services; and the remaining 25 cents funds research grants at the national level. Komen is the largest NGO provider of breast cancer research funds in the world.
L’Chaim: How is the national Susan G. Komen organization different from the San Diego location?
LFS: The national organization is solely responsible for granting and managing research grants. Komen San Diego is the expert on breast cancer in San Diego County. Every two years we take an in-depth needs assessment to identify the barriers to care – and everything we do is about bridging those gaps. Everything from diagnostics and treatment to meal delivery and temporary financial aid. Where there is a gap, Komen fills it.
L’Chaim: What does Susan G. Komen do for uninsured women?
LFS: We are the only breast cancer organization in San Diego County committed to providing free services and education for women. We remember that once someone is diagnosed, everyone in the family gets cancer. We look at the needs of families in the community and ways we can support them.
L’Chaim: How can we get involved, for instance in fundraising, volunteering, donations? How does Susan G. Komen partner with the community?
LFS: Go to our website: KomenSanDiego.org and learn about the many ways to participate. Whether as a volunteer for an event or a participant in a walk or run, there is something for everyone. Look for pink products with the ribbon logo in stores; proceeds are donated to our organization to help fund services. There are airline tickets you can purchase where Susan G. Komen San Diego is supported, miles through credit cards and articles on eBay are just some of the ways to help. We partner with the community in many ways as companies, organizations and even retail stores can place a sign in their window, donate or sponsor an event.
L’Chaim: What are some of the events are held throughout the year?
LFS: There is “Go Pink” in October with many companies, restaurants and organizations participating. People show support and wear pink and wear pink ribbons, as this is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. There are many companies and organizations participating in “Go Pink”, including the Hard Rock Café, La Valencia Hotel, ManPower, Mo’s Universe, the Urban Kitchen Group and Tri-City Medical Center. As a business, you can decorate your windows in pink or encourage employees to wear pink and anyone can donate. Check the website for events each month which are held countywide. Dine Out For the Cure on October 7 features restaurants throughout San Diego. Dining out at these restaurants insures donations for our organization. Making Strides San Diego is breast cancer walk is held in Balboa Park on October 18 and anyone can volunteer through the website.
Race for the Cure is a 3-day Race held at Balboa Park on November 1. The day begins at 8 a.m. and there is a 5K and a 1-mile walk and run. Visit the I AM THE CURE booth and learn about breast self-awareness and care. There will be a “spin the wheel” for prizes. For more information about I AM THE CURE program, breast health information and ways to get personally involved, visit IAmTheCure.org.
Who was Susan G. Komen?
Susan Goodman Komen was born in Peoria, Illinois in 1943 and diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 33. She died of the disease at age 36 in 1980. Komen’s younger sister, Nancy Goodman Brinker believed her sister’s outcome might have been better if patients were more educated about cancer and treatments available. She promised her sister she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer. “It all started with a promise” became the Susan G. Komen slogan.
Brinker founded the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in 1982. In 2008, the 25th anniversary of the organization, the name was changed to Susan G. Komen for the cure and trademarked a new logo in support of its promise “to end breast cancer forever.” The new logo is a pink ribbon resembling a runner in motion meant to reflect the importance of Komen’s signature Race For the Cure event. This is the world’s largest fund raising event for breast cancer education and research. In December 2009, Brinker was appointed CEO of the organization. Susan G. Komen is a unique organization and second only to the government in providing research and assistance in combating breast cancer.
Susan G. Komen in San Diego
Every day in San Diego County 6 women are told they have breast cancer and 1 woman dies each day. African American women in San Diego have a 41% higher mortality rate than their Caucasian counterparts. Only 37% of women are aware of free treatments.
Late stage incidence rates in San Diego are as follows: African American women–51.6%; Caucasian women–48.2%; Latina women–42.6% and Asian/Pacific Islander–30%. Although these are alarming statistics, there are many things women can do to save themselves from this disease. When discovered early, the most common kind of breast cancer has a nearly 99% survival rate with the key being early detection.
Komen’s 10-step action plan includes:
- HMO Issues – Working with Covered California to lobby for reform and teach newly-insured they are entitled to a free mammogram.
- Underinsured – Offering co-payments for the first time
- Don’t Have Time – Expanding free mammogram events across the County where women work, live and pray
- Can’t Get There – Supporting County-wide transportation programs
- Cultural Barriers – Funding ground breaking cultural competency programs
- Language & Literacy – Working in partnership with Live Well San Diego to provide information in all languages at appropriate levels
- Financial Issues – Continuing to fund financial needs for a women’s entire length of treatment
- Diagnostics – Form biopsies, MRI’s and CT scans, getting breast cancer diagnosed
- Lack of Support Services – Meal delivery, patient navigation and care coordination
Komen funded services are provided by the following community partners:
Jewish Family Service, 2-1-1 San Diego (For free mammograms, dial 2-1-1 to speak with a Breast Health Specialist or go to 211SanDiego.org), Research Investment, Vista Community Clinic, San Diego Medical Society Foundation, Mama’s Kitchen, San Ysidro Health Center, Council of Community Clinics and the Black Health Association San Diego.
For more information on how to become involved with Susan G. Komen San Diego or how to donate, visit KomenSanDiego.org.