By Justin Swanson, Special to the Independent
Five years ago, the Orange County branch of Susan G. Komen for the Cure held a breakfast workshop for breast cancer survivors, among them Sol Reyes Roberts of Laguna Beach. “That was my first entre into that world,” says Roberts, who two years later became a Komen board member and has put together her own workshop for the chapter focusing on Hispanic survivors.
As a retired nurse and 20-year member of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, Roberts never expected to be confronted by illness herself. “The position I was in, being a patient, was a 180 degree turnaround.”
Now, Roberts has hit her “magic number,” or rather, “the five year threshold.” However, Roberts finds it difficult to recollect all that she went through in the year of treatment. A sagacious foray unto her soul is hastened by Komen’s annual Race for the Cure, held Sunday, Sept. 23.
She shudders and avoids talking about the treatment itself, the surgeries and their physical toll. “I wouldn’t wish [that experience] on anyone,” she says, explaining her motivations to stay involved with the survivor community, “I don’t want anyone to go through that.”
The psychic recovery left its mark on Roberts as well. “It turns your life around. Your perspective changes on what’s important. My philosophy has changed.”
How does the philosophy of a former nurse change? “As a nurse I was just doing for someone else. [Upon and after treatment] I try to do things to make my life better, my family better, my children better,” Roberts muses.
Among other things, Roberts’ ordeal, her plight, ironically taught her how little she knew about the healthcare system with regard to the order of operations, assessments of treatment stages, and the like. Should it be difficult for a former nurse to ascertain the structure of treatment services, she figured those with less knowledge would find it difficult to submit to proper care. Hence, her continued dedication to educating particularly Hispanic women and passing on what she has learned, Roberts says, “because [in that position] it is hard to speak, hard to ask questions, and it’s hard to be better.”
Lisa Wolter, executive director of Komen’s Orange County affiliate, agrees with Roberts approach since many Latinas are uninsured, resulting in late stage diagnosis. Wolter, also of Laguna, explains, “We go where Latinas work, shop, and play, trusted places in the community, and provide mobile mammography. We bring access to them.”
For all of their work to be possible, Komen sets a goal of raising $3.1 million via the Race for the Cure, 75 percent of which is redirected into the community. Every $125 accrued covers the cost of a life-saving mammogram.
Orange County’s Race, with 20,000 participants, is the largest in the state and generates the largest breast cancer funding in California, and the “tenth largest in the world,” Wolter says. “It reflects the generosity of our community. We want our women to survive breast cancer.” She adds, “It also shows how we celebrate survivors.”
Wolter becomes ardent as she declares her organization’s goal. “There can never be too much pink as long as women are still dying. It is something we need to defeat.” She goes on, “My passion is that everyone deserves good healthcare no matter who you are, where you are.”
The Race for the Cure begins Sunday, Sept. 23 at Newport Beach’s Fashion Island. Events start at 6:30 a.m. and include a survivor tribute at 9 a.m. Registration for adults is $35 ($40 the day of the race), $25 for survivors, kids 17 and under, and seniors. For registration details, visit komenoc.org.