Part 2 of 2
This month across the country, and the globe, people are adorning themselves with pink ribbons, T-shirts, tennis shoes, dying their hair pink, and are even dressing their pets in pink outfits while participating in fundraising events throughout October — National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
The fundraising events held by the American Cancer Society, (ACS) as well as other cancer organizations and hospitals, raises funds to promote early detection of breast cancer through mammography, research, patient, and prevention programs.
Locally, the LA County Board of Supervisors made their official proclamation for “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” to announce their support for this year’s “in-person” ACS event, “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk of Los Angeles,” at Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, Oct. 16.
This year’s walk is noted by the supervisors to be more important than ever given the impact of the pandemic that caused a large drop in funding overall for cancer research and critical programs.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates that almost 10,000 excess deaths will occur in the US from breast and colorectal cancer over the next decade because of pandemic-related screening and treatment delays.
Penny for Your Walk
Granada Hills resident Penny Smith will be front and center with her team, “Penny For Your Walk,” to join the hundreds of families expected to walk throughout downtown Los Angeles to support breast cancer patients and survivors.
She stresses how she knows firsthand how support and encouragement from people can be a life-changer.
“I am so lucky to have so many friends who have helped me,” she said. “People would drop off food and the amount of love was enormous. A friend would wash and iron my daughter’s school uniform. I am doing this because I know what it’s like, I’ve been there.”
“The year of my diagnosis my girlfriend said, ‘why don’t we do the “Making Strides Walk?” and I told her, ‘You’re crazy, I can’t even walk and don’t have the energy to do this!’ But she came up with this adorable logo, with a penny and pink tennis shoes.”
Five years later, Penny said she is very grateful that walking is much easier for her.
“Two years ago, I did the ACS walk in Santa Barbara on behalf of a relative and I actually ran a bit. Although it’s still a challenge — there’s a big difference for me now.”
The walk is open to the entire community and, unlike other walks, there is no registration fee. Organizers encourage it to be a supportive family event — an opportunity to join together with their shared experience of having a family member or friend who has had breast cancer.
“It’s my fifth year participating, and I’m encouraging people to bring their friends, kids, and spouses,” Penny said.
“The first year I raised $14,000 dollars, and I’m still inviting people to join my team. My goal is to raise $25,000 this year.”
COVID-19 safety measures will be in place and participants are urged to wear masks even though the event is outdoors. “I and all cancer patients need to be protected,” Penny said. “I’ll be at the park with a large sign and I’ll have masks for people [in my group] if they don’t have one.”
First diagnosed at Stage 2, Penny battled an aggressive breast cancer and had a difficult treatment, including chemo for one year, surgery, radiation, and was prescribed Tamoxifen to take for 10 years following her last treatment.
She’s participated in a clinical trial and has suffered other damage to her body from the treatment. She lost her hair, eyebrows and much of it hasn’t come back.
She has yet to hear the words “remission,” but is grateful to have reached the five-year mark this year that doctors and patients aim for.
She speaks candidly about many sleepless nights withering in excruciating pain, the loss of bodily functions and damaged, weakened muscles that cause her to now wear adult diapers, severe bone pain which impacts intimacy with her husband.
“I think it’s important to talk frankly about what the treatment can do to your body and the impact it has on your family,” she said. “Oftentimes when you hear media reports about cancer survivors, it sounds like life is perfect from there, and it’s over — you return to your old life, but that’s often not the whole story.”
Penny recognizes that everyone’s journey is unique and that’s why treatments can’t be cookie cutter.
“In my case, they gave me so much chemo and the side effects were very intense and I continue to deal with them five years later.”
The Organizing Touch
She describes her journey with cancer as one that gave her a new mission — to support other patients by being an active volunteer with the American Cancer Society and by recently starting a home organizing company that helps people challenged to keep their homes in order, particularly cancer patients that don’t have the energy to clean and organize their homes while going through difficult treatments.
“I understand how physically and emotionally fatiguing it is to go through treatment,” Penny said.
She recalls not being able to get out of bed or even lift her head.
“When I got sick and when you have your treatment you lose your energy and you can’t keep up.”
Her company, The Organizing Touch, charges half the cost of similar businesses and donates half of the proceeds to the American Cancer Society.
“I’ve always been organized and when I got diagnosed people always asked me how I could go through it. I told them, look something good is coming my way from this pain, from this disease, the sacrifice of my family including my husband and 12-year-old daughter. This was a gift from God for me, it put my life in perspective,” she said.
“I really mean it when I say, if I can help one other person, by fundraising, or talking frankly about my experience, then it’s worth it.”
The Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk of Los Angeles will take place on Saturday, Oct. 16, at Grand Park, located at 200 N. Spring St. in downtown LA. Registration is at 7 a.m. and Walk will start at 8:30 a.m. People can join Penny’s team or sign up for the walk at: MakingStridesWalk.org/LosAngeles. The walk is free, but we welcome donations to help fund free patient services and cancer research. It’s a family event and all are welcome. Many attend wearing the color pink.
If you’d like to contact Penny Smith about Organizing Touch or her volunteer work with the American Cancer Society go to: firstname.lastname@example.org.