By Eva Trieger
I think it’s pretty safe to say that most women don’t look forward to their annual mammogram. But if we truly understood how early detection saves lives, we may rethink the experience and be grateful for the technology and opportunity. In a recent phone call with Meredith Hall-Chand, the Interim President & CEO of Susan G. Komen San Diego, I learned of the amazing things Susan G. Komen San Diego offers to thousands of San Diegans of all genders, ages and ethnicities every year.
Prior to becoming Interim President and CEO, Hall-Chand had been the Director of Development for the organization. Her own connection to the organization echoes that of many others who’ve had a family member suffer from, or succumb to, breast cancer.
I learned that Susan G. Komen was a real person who died from breast cancer while in her 30s. The organization, which is headquartered in Texas, was born out of a promise between sisters, to find a cure for breast cancer. Our San Diego Susan G. Komen is a grassroots organization with only nine employees and a relatively small operating budget. The goals of this group are anything but modest!
Hall-Chand helped me understand the broadly inclusive scope that San Diego’s Susan G. Komen offers our community. Firstly, I was unaware that six area women are diagnosed with breast cancer each day, and each day, one woman dies of the disease. Reducing these numbers is paramount, and the first step is to make screenings available to all women and dissolve the barriers that exist. While men can also be victims of breast cancer, statistics put them at less than 1 percent of all cases.
Of special concern to those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, mutations in the BRCA genes significantly increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Those with either parent positive for the mutation face a 50 percent chance of inheriting that mutation. In this case, genetic counseling may be recommended.
“Whether or not you have a genetic disposition, please get yourself checked regularly. Early detection can mean the difference between a full life versus a compromised one. Please help support Susan G. Komen to continue their constant work and research into eliminating this killer. Without your help, we can’t win this battle,” exhorts Sherry Berman Ahern, a committed donor and volunteer to Susan G. Komen San Diego.
Hall-Chand shared that women often don’t have annual exams because they lack transportation, can’t leave young children, don’t get leave time from jobs or lack insurance. To this end, Komen partners with corporations, and nonprofit organizations such as Jewish Family Services and enjoys fabulous voluntary support. Additionally, Hall-Chand described the newly created Financial Assistance Fund that provides groceries, gasoline, car payments, rent or mortgages so that those dealing with the disease don’t become bankrupt or experience despair in addition to coping with cancer. I was told that when individuals need to make choices about these items, they tend to stop taking their medication, cut it in half or take it every other day, so as to save money. This fund enables individuals to care for themselves and their families with support and compassion.
People need to speak candidly with their doctors, sharing their own “normal” and any family history or current physical symptoms that are new or distressing. Self-breast exams are good, but do not stand in for annual (or more frequent) exams with a professional. Doctors know which tests are indicated only if a patient reports her issues.
Education is essential and the organization is all about teaching the public what services are available through handing out literature at community events, doing outreach at colleges, churches, universities, health fairs etc. The education offered isn’t only theoretical. One amazing event is a partnership with Hologic, a company that makes mammography machines and provides mobile coaches to bring screenings to the public at a local spot. The results can then be sent directly to health care providers or clinics. Petco Park was the site of one such event, and women are encouraged to call Komen ahead and make an appointment for their mobile mammogram.
Obviously, this has been hampered by COVID-19, but fortunately, another organization, Los Angeles-based, Sharsheret, offers webinars and virtual presentations to keep patients informed and supported. Sharsheret has a Peer Support Network of over 16,000 women who can empathize with the challenges and fears which accompany breast cancer.
One thing I found exciting and surprising is that all of the money raised in San Diego stays in San Diego. This means that not only can Komen San Diego provide screenings, financial aid to patients, but can also do research and advocacy work. Currently, effective medications are being researched at Salk and UCSD.
Volunteer support is critical, and this year’s Race for the Cure is slated for November 1, 2020. The route will take participants through Balboa Park. This event is the largest annual fundraiser for Susan G. Komen San Diego, and participants will celebrate the 24th consecutive year of dedication and optimism, by raising funds to further research and services. This year’s theme is ‘90s Throwback End to Breast Cancer Walk, and walkers are urged to don workout gear from yesteryear. Online registration can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org for walkers and virtual participants.
There is also an annual dinner, More Than Pink, that will be virtual this year. On May 29, you can join supporters for the one hour event from the comfort of your own home. Though this event is free to attend, a VIP package may be purchased online. Proceeds will benefit immunocompromised and low-income breast cancer patients with food assistance, transportation, childcare, rent, utilities and treatment assistance.
Another way to demonstrate your support is to become an ambassador. To volunteer please visit iamkomen.org. The website offers volunteers of every age the opportunity to play a part in educating the public about lifestyle choices for healthier living and best practices for dealing with breast cancer.
Celebrating its 25th year Susan G. Komen San Diego is not loosening its grip on the goal. Mortality rates have decreased by 40 percent since Susan G. Komen has been around. Radical mastectomy has been replaced by medication or hormone therapy. These are major strides not to be minimized however, the battle continues. When asked about her dream for Susan G. Komen San Diego, Meredith Hall Chand wants to eradicate all barriers to screenings and provide these critical services to all of those in need.
To learn more about Susan G. Komen San Diego or to make a donation, visit www.komensandiego.org.