What Does ‘Survivor’ Mean to You?

Survivor is defined as ‘one to remain alive or in existence; to live on; to continue to function or prosper.’ To us, it is all that and it is synonymous for “hero” – a warrior and one who shows great courage.’ It goes without saying that one who battles and overcomes a life-threatening disease or illness, such as breast cancer, is indeed a hero.  We want to honor all the breast cancer survivors, our heroes – today, tomorrow and always.

Susan G. Komen Orange County hosted its annual Survivor Celebration & Awards Banquet on August 12 at the Oasis Senior Center in Corona Del Mar. Themed “A Day at the Races,” it was a day that celebrated the survivors, role models and heroes. A special tribute honored our very own, Robin Pollok, who this year, lost her third battle against Stage 4 breast cancer. Pollok was best known for singing the national anthem at the start of the annual Race for the Cure. Despite the debilitating treatment sessions, she never missed a Race in the last 16 years. This is a true testament to her fight against her illness. This is the true mark of a hero.

Robin Pollok

Robin Pollok sings at the 2011 Race for the Cure

The Survivor Celebration & Awards Banquet also recognized other survivors, hard-working volunteers, and faithful supporters, who stood alongside a loved one battling breast cancer. Those honorees were:

  • Carla Cammack, a survivor and Komen Orange County volunteer who held pivotal roles for several years at Race for the Cure including Race Chair.
  • Veronica Mora, a young woman whose breast cancer was detected early, thanks in part to free testing funded by Komen.
  • Peggy Swanson-Taylor received the Most Inspirational Breast Cancer Survivor Award for noteworthy work with women diagnosed with breast cancer, her unselfish commitment in volunteering, raising awareness and tens of thousands of dollars to help end this disease, and especially for celebrating 30 years of being cancer-
  • Louie Rodriguez, a retiree of the Long Beach Fire Department, was honored with the Most Inspirational Breast Cancer Journey Partner Award. Rodriguez stood by his wife who lost her battle against the disease in 2015. Together he and his wife started Pink Ribbons and Blessings, a breast cancer clothing and jewelry stored located in Orange.
  • Reyna Crespo, who received the Outstanding Breast Health Advocate Award for her steadfast work in educating and recruiting Latina women to get free mammograms at Northgate Markets.

Hats off to all survivors, volunteers and supporters – our heroes – for taking a stand against this disease that has claimed so many lives.

Guests attending our 2017 Survivors Banquet (from L to R): Sherall Gradias, Carla Cammack, Jane Hill, and Donna Hartman

In addition to our Survivor Award Banquet, we host various initiatives throughout the years to support our beloved survivors and their families. A special tribute to survivors will also be held at the Komen Orange County Race for the Cure on September 24 at Newport Beach’s Fashion Island.

From September through February 2018, Komen Orange County is offering a Breast Health Education Series, free workshops that are open to the public, covering breast health topics including risk reduction, screening, diagnostics, treatment, metastatic breast cancer and survivorship.

Information on these events and others can be found here. We hope to see you at an upcoming event!

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Home Sweet Home, New Adventures Ahead

After 16 years in Costa Mesa, we are moving! On Monday, March 27, our new address will be 2817 McGaw Avenue, Irvine, CA 92614. We invite you to join us at our open house on Friday, April 21st from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. to check out our new home and enjoy some refreshments.  It’ll be the perfect opportunity for you to tour our office, get to know us and learn about our services! No need to RSVP, just show up and say hello.

Moving boxes piling up in our Costa Mesa office

Moving boxes piling up in our Costa Mesa office

Of the 13 Susan G. Komen Orange County staff members, some have been here for 11 years, others for 11 months. Nevertheless, this move feels bittersweet as we’ve all created memories associated with this office, and the inspiring survivors, supporters and volunteers who’ve crossed our paths. On the other hand, we’re really looking forward to the new office, the exciting beginning of a new chapter in serving more women and saving more lives! Here are some of our best moments, most inspiring stories and thoughts on our new adventure ahead:

What is your best memory associated with this office?

Julie (Director of Marketing): The day I came in to interview for the position. I was so nervous driving to the office, not knowing that to expect. The interview process was nerve-wrecking and I remember telling myself, “What’s meant to be will be,” and here I am six years later loving what I do! Now, I feel like this place and my co-workers have become like a second home and family.

Danielle (Special Events & Race for the Cure Teams Coach): I have enjoyed interacting with the many different groups meeting in our conference room (Race committee, Pink Tie Ball committee, Race Teams, volunteer and survivor groups). Our Team Captain Rallies, and hearing about the inspiring stories behind their involvement with Race for the Cure are among my favorite moments in the office.

LarLeslie (Circle of Promise Community Resource Advocate): I’ve enjoyed most working with an inspiring and compassionate staff and meeting and planning with the African-American Breast Health Partnership to increase awareness and improve breast cancer outcomes in the community.

Do you have a story about an event, a meeting, an encounter that took place in this office that inspired you, touched you or had an impact on you?

Lisa (Executive Director): An event that sticks with me is a candlelight reception we held in the courtyard, where we shared stories about friends, families, and acquaintances who had been taken by breast cancer, remembering their courage, commitment, hopes and fears.

Robin (Circle of Caring/Development): Each day, we have an opportunity to change the path for someone who comes to us for help. I discovered this when a survivor, Ann, showed up at our office, devastated and in shock. She had just been diagnosed with breast cancer and was scheduled for a mastectomy very soon. She didn’t know what to do, had little understanding of her own diagnosis or treatment plan, and had no idea what to tell her 12-year old autistic daughter. I comforted her, and together we contacted her doctor’s office and learned that there was no actual diagnosis and the scheduled mastectomy surgery prescribed by her doctor was premature. I helped her schedule a new appointment with a different doctor, and I provided her with Susan G. Komen materials to help her understand her new circumstances.

Julie: The first survivor we lost after I joined Susan G. Komen was a woman named Kathy Voorhis. She was a beautiful person inside and out. My favorite memory was a photo shoot we did with her and a few other women for our Race for the Cure campaign that year. She was so hard on herself and her photos but that day, she was the most beautiful I had ever seen her. She radiated beauty through her smile, sense of humor and sincere kindness. She is dearly missed.

Kathy Voorhis

Kathy Voorhis

Jennifer (Mission Programs Specialist): One of my favorite encounters was with a breast cancer survivor who needed assistance with hairpieces, and the feeling of wholeness she experienced when we find a wig that suited her.

What are you looking forward to in the new office?

Lisa: The new office will have a very welcoming front room with a couch and chairs, wood floor and be very close to the Resource and Wig Room. It will be nice for talking privately with people needing breast cancer information or referrals. We also will have a big new training room next to an open warehouse area so I envision some great celebrations and look forward to do our Race for the Cure registration and packet pick up right from our own space.

Danielle: I am looking forward to the new office and the many ways we will be able to utilize our new training room and various multi use rooms with volunteers, supporters and survivors.

We could not close this post without thanking our generous friends at Tangram Interiors who designed our new space, provided new furniture and helped us move. Thanks to their incredible work, the new office already feels like home!

Orange County Survivors and Advocates Celebrated at Komen Orange County Awards Luncheon

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Three strong and inspirational individuals were recognized at the 2013 Komen Orange County Survivor Celebration and Awards Luncheon  on August 11 , in addition to the many more being celebrated throughout the day. As in years past, this is always a wonderful event where we can give back to inspiring survivors, co-survivors and advocates from within the Orange County community.

Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Sandra Hutchens, who, in October of 2012 announced her diagnosis with Stage III breast cancer, gave a speech that was inspiring, emotional and humorous. We are so grateful to her for coming out and sharing her experiences and stories with the award recipients and all those in attendance. This was the first event where she shared her deeply personal story and she did it in a way that touched us all.

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Three honorees were awarded Most Inspirational Breast Cancer Survivor, Most Inspirational Co-Survivor and Outstanding Breast Health Advocate.

The Most Inspirational Breast Cancer Survivor recipient was Huntington Beach resident Georganna Hall Wadsack who, when diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 as a 38-year-old single mother, was able to benefit from programs put in place by Komen Orange County which helped in both her diagnosis and treatment. She has since been married and invested herself in Komen Orange County by taking part in many events. She spoke during the Survivor Tribute at last year’s Race for the Cure and volunteered at Stand Up for the Cure which, with the help of Georganna and other volunteers, raised more than $100,000 last year! Georganna will be joining the advisory board for 2014’s Stand Up for the Cure.

The Most Inspirational Co-Survivor recipient was Aliso Viejo resident, Melissa McGee, who has been affected by the disease three times by supporting and caring for her two friends and mother who had breast cancer. Melissa is also the person responsible for bringing to life the ever-inspiring Susan’s Gardens Posters that decorate the Race for the Cure path each year. She creates and hangs each poster on race day in memory and recognition of loved ones who have fought the disease (The deadline to purchase your order is Sept. 4th)

The Outstanding Breast Health Advocate recipient, Angela Acevedo, got involved with Komen Orange County after recognizing a need for community outreach and education with Latinas through her work at St. Joseph’s Hospital. She identified a need in a high-risk population and goes above and beyond her call of duty as a nurse navigator. Not only does she help those with breast cancer navigate what can be a confusing landscape of health care, but she also volunteers her time to Komen Orange County events, even going as far as traveling to Indiana to donate her own breast tissue at the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Tissue Bank at IU Simon Cancer Center in Indiana

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Thank you to everyone who attended this wonderful event. Komen Orange County is proud to honor individuals leading the charge toward furthering breast health education and energizing science for the cure.

For more information about Komen Orange County, visit us at http://www.komenoc.org, or text “News” to 50555 for mobile updates . You can also text “KomenOC” to 50555 to donate to local breast health services and education in Orange County.

Upcoming Events:

August 24th Join us for our last Team Captain Kickoff before the race! Come meet other team captains, learn effective ways to fundraise, and about all the race day logistics!

September 22nd – The 22nd annual Komen Orange County Race for the Cure will be held at Fashion Island. If you haven’t registered yet, click here to join a team, start your own, or just support the race! We’re looking forward to seeing everyone at the starting line!

Submit Your Nominations for the 2012 Komen for the Cure Awards by May 1

At Komen Orange County, we admire the strength of all those affected by breast cancer. Know someone that represents the Komen fight? We are currently accepting nominations for Most Inspirational Breast Cancer Survivor, Most Inspirational Breast Cancer Co-Survivor and Outstanding Breast Health Advocate. Nominations are due no later than May 1, 2012.

More details, including forms and instructions, can be found at http://bit.ly/GNpzeL.

We are all part of one community and together, we grow stronger in the fight to end breast cancer forever. To honor the winners, we will be hosting a “Komen Celebrate Survivors: Footprints to the Promise” luncheon on Sunday, June 10, at Costa Mesa Country Club. Please consider nominating someone for this inspirational and moving celebration.

We are also recruiting 12 breast cancer survivor models for the fashion show. More information and instructions to nominate someone or yourself can be found at http://bit.ly/Izv82z. The deadline to be considered is April 20, 2012.

VOLUNTEER SPOTLIGHT: Michelle Buessing

Komen volunteer Michelle Buessing is definitely a “glass half full” type of woman. She has enthusiasm, optimism and determination despite her personal challenge with breast cancer. Michelle was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer at the age of 32 while she was breast feeding her daughter Maya. There was no family history of breast cancer.

 

Michelle went through four months of chemotherapy, had an 8-hour surgery, three more months of chemo and then 33 radiation treatments, but none of this knocked down the spirit of this Mission Viejo mother. Michelle is now a volunteer for the Komen for the Cure Speakers Bureau.

Here is what Michelle had to say at a recent speaking engagement:

“At the age of 32 I heard the words, ‘you have cancer.’ A day that will always stand out as the most life changing moment of my life, not because it brought me to my knees (which it did) but because it was the day I was given the gift of hope…hope that I would have a long future with my then 11-month- old and 2-year-old little girls because I got to hear the words treatable and curable. [These] two words to a recently diagnosed young mother and wife that make all the difference.

“I have told people since the day I was diagnosed that I owe my life to Susan G. Komen for the Cure because no other organization has done more or had a greater impact on the survival rate. I received cutting edge chemo, surgery and radiation thanks to the advancements in medicine that have been made over the past 20 years.

“I feel in the very fiber of my being that I will get to stand with my daughters at the glorious celebration the day we announce we have found a cure for breast cancer. Will you join me in finding a cure?”

Michelle is an inspiration. She and her family deserve our help. Let’s live by her motto: “Life is sweet… enjoy it!  Faith, love and hope REALLY do make all the difference.”

 

Our Friend Nanci

Nanci Brown as a Komen "cover girl" in 2002.

Carla Cammack and Nanci Brown were “breast friends” – two breast cancer survivors who motivated and enjoyed each other. Nanci Brown died earlier this month on her 64th birthday. Nanci was the Komen Orange County 2002 Most Inspirational Breast Cancer Survivor. Carla is a Komen Orange County board member and has volunteered in key positions with Race for the Cure for many years, including as Race Chair.

This is what Carla has to say about her “breast friend” Nanci:

“The photo below was taken when I flew to Florida to say goodbye to my dear friend. Nanci’s phenomenal strength and courage as she battled Stage 4 breast cancer the last seven years has been a constant source of inspiration to me in my work with Komen.  At the 2008 Race for the Cure Survivor Tribute, I was able to honor Nanci by sharing with the 30,000 people in attendance that Nanci’s goal in January of that year was to be alive and well enough to travel to southern California for our Race in September.  And there she was – in person – at our Race.  The crowd cheered in celebration of her accomplishment and she became an instant celebrity.  She was thrilled at the attention!

“When I just saw her in Florida, Nanci was lucid and coherent, so I was able to tell her how much she has meant to me and how much I loved her and she was able to tell me the same thing.  I promised her that I was going to continue to use her story to inspire and help as many other women as I could and that made her happy.

“I don’t want to have to say goodbye to any more dear friends. Everyone must do their part to put an end to this disease, so please help in any way you can!”

Friends Nanci and Carla.

To register for the 2010 Race for the Cure, to make a donation, to volunteer or for breast cancer education, go to www.komenoc.org. We will continue to be inspired by Nanci Brown.

Double the Inspiration

Congratulations are richly deserved by the two women who have been honored by the Komen Orange County Affiliate as the Most Inspirational Breast Cancer Survivor.”  Each year the Affiliate pays tribute to a breast cancer survivor who has taken her cancer experience and transformed that battle into a positive by inspiring and educating the public about the importance of early detection and/or healthy life choices. In one simple analogy, the honorees have taken the lemons and made sweet lemonade to refresh and rejuvenate others. (Not to mention perhaps saving a life along the way.)

Jane Hill with her grandson Colin

This year, two people were honored as the Most Inspirational Breast Cancer Survivor. How lucky for us to bask in two times the positive energy!

Jane Hill is a survivor of nearly 20 years who has been a part of the Komen Orange County Affiliate since the beginning. She has volunteered in many capacities. One key role for Jane is chairing the Survivor Tribute at Race for the Cure. She also played an instrumental role in the development of Kids Konnected.  Jane has also entertained with a comedy routine to spread humor in healing.  Now on staff for Komen, Jane continues to volunteer and to be a tireless optimist and cheerleader in the fight against breast cancer.

Kathy Voorhis

Kathy Voorhis faced her re-occurrence of breast cancer with courage and a positive attitude, continuing her life and Race for the Cure volunteer commitments without slowing down. She has been a fierce breast health advocate who fought for her own treatment and care after multiple misdiagnoses. Kathy was the driving force who connected the radio program “Martini in the Morning” to Race for the Cure as a sponsor. She shared her story during live interviews and her upbeat approach reached and inspired untold listeners.