By Larry Blustein
MIAMI - Grace Hopper sat on a chair at a table, made up with pink ribbons and photos, passing out information to those who were interested in the fight against breast cancer.
As she spoke to those who wanted to find out more, she continued to relive a painful story that began when she was 44. Now 53, it is has been nearly a decade of countless trips to the doctor for gut-wrenching chemo treatments and being prodded and poked at so many times, she cried from the pain.
Hopper is a survivor. She has the physical and emotional scars to prove it - and as she sat in the chair at this important Breast Cancer Awareness event in Miami, she was giving back to the fact that she is now in remission and wanted to share her experiences with those who attended in hopes that they would never have to go through what she has lived since 2005.
"I never paid attention to any of this before because I was one that didn't think it would ever affect me," she said. "I was healthy, ate right, ran marathons and was simply immune to anything that would resemble cancer."
Hopper lives in North Miami and remembers the day she couldn't get out of bed in the morning because of a pain that she ignored for over two weeks. Her husband had told her several times to at least go and get checked out, but she was too stubborn and in her mind, too healthy for cancer to ravage her body.
With no family history of the disease, Hopper learned a painful lesson. One that she has continued to preach the past decade since being diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer.
"I simply was stunned to find out that I had cancer," she recalled. "I sat there and cried the entire day and feeling sorry for myself. But I did find out that Stage 2 means the breast cancer is growing, but it is still contained in one area. But that if I didn't get it checked out, I would have been gone."
During the next six months, Hopper's life changed. Her entire lifestyle changed - and she admits - she was starting to learn about the disease the way she should have years before.
"My neglect almost cost me my life," she recalled. "That is why I am here today and have continued to preach the word to everyone who will listen. Early detection can really save lives and I am living proof."
The focus on cancer has now become something people watch and listen to year round - and as October has been designated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month across the country, we are all reminded about how serious this disease is.
From local high schools and businesses to the National Football League, wearing pink during October is a stark reminder that this is something that everyone needs to keep focused on.
With local football players at schools such as Hallandale, Hollywood Hills, South Broward, Dr. Krop and Chaminade-Madonna wearing pink as part of their uniforms, it makes youngsters aware that cancer, especially breast cancer does indeed exist and can tear families apart.
"Knowledge is so key to anything," said Maria Ramirez, who attended the event with her mother, who just happens to be a two-time cancer survivor. "Before my mother had cancer, I never gave much thought to the disease. It was like everyone gets it but me. Now, I go for mammograms every year and get screened for cancer."
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide and the second-most common cancer overall. In 2014, an estimated 232,030 cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. alone. So no matter who you are or where you live, understanding breast cancer is important. But the most important thing to know is this: a diagnosis is not a death sentence. Breast cancer can be treated.
Regular screening tests (along with follow-up tests and treatment if diagnosed) can reduce your chance of dying from breast cancer. After all, screening tests can find breast cancer early, when the chances of survival are highest. That’s why local programs provide screening tests in communities. So more people can have access to these valuable and important tools. But there are also things you can do to help improve your chances of early detection.
Having events such as walks, informative talks and discussions with cancer patients and doctors provide enough information to know and to be prepared just in case.
RELAY FOR LIFE
One of the things that really has taken center stage in the fight against breast - and cancer in general - has been the Relay For Life events. Held during the spring, these 24-hour walks shine the spotlight on those who have survived cancer as well as those who are still fighting the fight.
In addition, Relay For Life brings the community together to understand what is needed in the way of support and understanding as well as raise money for research to better combat the disease.