Awareness to Action


Mrs. Lehmeier and Mrs. Perry

Nicole Pampena, Copy Editor

We are all aware that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, just like we are all aware that breast cancer is still very real. The year is 2014, and there is no cure; so how do we move forward? By walking, of course. One of the most powerful weapons used to fund research and fight breast cancer is the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. After speaking with North Hills’ survivors Mrs. Lehmeier and Mrs. Perry, we learned of their personal battles, their experiences from participating in walks, and additional ways everyone in the community can contribute.

Mrs. Perry was first diagnosed in 1998, also the same year she first did Race for the Cure. Thanks to early detection, treatment was minimal, and temporary remission soon followed. “After five years everyone breathes a sigh of relief, so it was shocking to be re-diagnosed after nine years.” Her second battle required radiation, surgery, and caused her to lose her hair. “Right now, everything seems really good.” Perry has been racing for the cure for sixteen years and described that first year as “overwhelming”. “You feel like everyone is there for you.”

Mrs. Lehmeier was diagnosed with a triple positive tumor in 2008. This required chemo, surgery, and radiation as a result. “It rocks your world when you hear it.” During her battle, she continued to work and tried to focus on her son enjoying the high school experience. “I wanted it to be about him and not his mom having cancer…I had a wonderful support system.” As of September 18, she is six years cancer free. Lehmeier was participating in the race long before she was even diagnosed. “It gives you a different perspective when you’re walking as a survivor. It’s an incredible tribute to cancer survivors and women in general.”

Along with the Race for the Cure, many other organizations hold events strung throughout the year. A division of Susan G. Komen holds Paws for the Cure, a one mile dog walk throughout Hartwood Acres that lands on October 12 this year. Avon holds a two day, 39 mile walk in eight cities. Aside from walking, a foundation called HairPiece helps women purchase wigs that aren’t covered by insurance. Over the years, wigs have increased from around $350 to starting prices of $700 for synthetic hair and $1,000 for real hair.

In 2012, the two ladies went to Cleveland and did a much more intense race supported by Susan G. Komen: a 3-day, 60-mile walk. The event takes place in fourteen cities and requires participants to raise $2,800 before registering. The two covered twenty miles each day and slept in pink tents at night through record high heat. Mrs. Perry has completed the walk four times as well as her sister and partner in tribute to her. “The camaraderie on the trip is overwhelming, and it’s always worth it.”

However, seeing a sea of pink in their home city of Pittsburgh is irreplaceable. Lehmeier described what a fabulous medical community our city has and the great amount of options and support out there.

Unfortunately, some women aren’t as lucky. “I think it’s sad there’s still so much pink out there and the fact that they haven’t found a cure yet.” Perry commented. Though the help and the research is there, a cure isn’t expected when breast cancer is a 59 billion dollar industry with staggering numbers.

So that brings back the question as to how we move forward. “The progression is in the treatment.” Lehmeier explained. Only six years ago when she was being treated, an infusion was given every Friday for a year whereas now chemo can be completed in twelve weeks. Even radiation treatment that in the past lasted around forty days has been reduced to two weeks. “Not that you feel good, but you’re able to work, able to function, and more people are surviving early diagnosis.

Early diagnosis is exactly what the two women want to see people do. As a survivor, Lehmeier advised to “get on a routine where you take good care of yourself, and don’t let the years go by”. She explained to us the story of a woman she shared her experience with who put off a mammogram for eight years and resulted in battling a six year fight with Stage 4 breast cancer. “I didn’t feel anything and there was no suspicion,” Perry added, “I would go back to that idea of really pushing pharmaceutical companies to do whatever they can to find a cure. It’s incredible they’re not closer.”

Until pharmaceutical companies value the lives of women over profit, raising money towards research and the financial assistance of victims is the most effective form of contribution.