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SCV breast cancer survivors honor mothers and motherhood

Posted: May 4, 2010 2:07 p.m.
Updated: May 5, 2010 5:53 p.m.
 
Van Nuys Calif., - Country resident Tracie Kimbrough, 48 her sister, Cheryl McGown, 46, of Valencia, and their mother will celebrate their three- and seven-years' breast cancer survival respectively at their own Mother's Day celebration on Aug. 15 at the American Cancer Society's new "Making Strides Against Cancer 3K" at Woodley Park in Van Nuys on June 12.
The sisters were no strangers to breast cancer. Two aunts and their maternal grandmother had battled the disease when the girls were young.

But it came as a shock when McGown, just 39, was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2003. She underwent a double mastectomy, radiation, chemotherapy and breast reconstruction and recently finished five years of Tamoxifen.

"My mother held my sister, she consoled her," Kimbrough said. "She was with me when I went under for my surgeries. How she did it I'm not sure."

When Kimbrough was diagnosed with in situ breast cancer (cancer that has not spread to surrounding tissue) in 2007 she had had enough.

"Watching my mom, who's the strongest woman I know, go through this was unbelievable," Kimbrough said. "She had to face watching both her daughters face cancer after losing a sister to breast cancer."

Because she is at an elevated risk for breast cancer, Kimbrough's daughter Alyceia, now 28, began having regular mammograms at a younger age than the American Cancer Society's recommended age 40, and does regular breast self-examinations.

Kimbrough is not one to live with regret or second guess her lot in life.

"I wouldn't have changed one second of the experience," she said. "It made me determined to find a cure.

"I watched my sister and her cancer battle," Kimbrough said. "To say it was life changing is an understatement. I was just furious at these little malignant cells that were trying to destroy my baby sister, my only sister."

Now, she's carrying her fight to the streets.

Following a double mastectomy Kimbrough underwent breast reconstruction. Having witnessed Kimbrough's determination and positive attitude, the nurse in her reconstructive surgeon's office suggested she volunteer for the American Cancer Society's Reach To Recovery program, a free peer visitation program for women newly diagnosed with breast cancer.

After realizing there are people who didn't have the support system she trained to become a Reach to Recovery volunteer. "I can't imagine having no one to talk to," She said. "And as a recovering cancer patient, Reach to Recovery gave me an outlet."

"Every woman out there is someone's mother, daughter, sister, aunt," she said. "You can fight! Breast cancer is a secret you don't want to keep. If you feel something, you need to tell someone. Do self exams. Get mammograms. The earlier cancer is detected, the better your chances of beating it."

When Kimbrough received an invitation to learn about the American Cancer Society's first San Fernando Valley Making Strides Against Breast Cancer she leaped at the opportunity.

"At the meeting the staff made the mistake of asking my opinion and now I'm in charge of team recruitment," she said. "The American Cancer Society uses the funds raised through Making Strides to fund research leading to the discovery of lifesaving treatments, advocate for all women to have access to mammograms and treatments - regardless of income - and to provide free programs and services like Reach to Recovery that improve the quality of life for cancer patients and their families.

"There really is life after cancer. And it's a good life," she said. "I feel very blessed to share each and every Mother's Day that comes. My sister's still here, I'm still here and I hope I'll be here someday to enjoy grandchildren on Mother's Day."

Since 1993, Making Strides Against Breast Cancer has been the American Cancer Society's rallying cry to raise awareness and money to fight breast cancer. In that time, nearly six million walkers have raised more than $400 million through Making Strides.

In 2009 alone, nearly 700,000 walkers raised $60 million across the country. Since 1972, the American Cancer Society has invested more than $352 million to give those touched by breast cancer more reasons for hope.

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