PANAMA CITY— This year’s public fight against breast cancer started with the Battle of the Bras at the Grand Theatre and has gained momentum for Saturday’s Put on Your Pink Bra 5K Walk in Pier Park.
“I am such a supporter of Making Strides,” said breast cancer survivor Paula Freeman, R.N., team leader of the Covenant Hospice Butterflies. “It’s about raising money, but to me, the hugs and the connections inspire survivors, makes us feel good. It bonds us when other people have gone through this … and when we go out and do the survivor walk. Everyone has their own story.”
Her team of 22, which includes her son, Matthew, had raised about $2,500 by Tuesday.
“I’ve been wearing pink a lot this month, but not after the month of October,” Freeman said Tuesday morning, as we sat drinking coffee in the conference room of Covenant Hospice Inpatient Care Center at Bay Medical Center. “I’ve never been a pink person; I’m about sick of pink after that.”
Freeman, a hospital liaison, had a pink-themed basket in her office for Thursday’s auction at the Care Center.
According to the American Cancer Society’s community representative Stephanie Bird, Panama City’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer is set to reach its fundraising goal of $150,000.
“It might not be the day of the walk, but we have teams continue to raise money and turn money in for weeks after the walk,” Bird said.
The money raised through MSABC is used by the American Cancer Society to fuel breast cancer research, spread breast awareness messages, advocate for screening opportunities and provide information services and recovery programs.
‘One in eight women’
If it hasn’t already, breast cancer will affect you or someone you know.
“One in eight women — you’re going to know somebody,” said breast cancer survivor Dr. Bobbi Baker, who spends mornings at her general internal medicine practice and afternoons at the Covenant Hospice Inpatient Care Center.
Four women who work at the center, including Baker and Freeman, have been diagnosed with breast cancer in recent years.
“I was diagnosed April 20 on my son’s 12th birthday. At first when I was diagnosed, I would see the bad side of things a lot — young people with breast cancer who didn’t make it,” said Freeman, 42, who was 41 at the time.
She has two sisters who are breast cancer survivors — “a 20-year survivor and a seven-year survivor.” Her first sister was diagnosed at age 35, and the other at age 45.
“It tends to run in families, but I had genetic testing and it came back negative,” Freeman said. “I found it myself, so I am always encouraging women to do it. It didn’t show on the mammogram, but on the ultrasound it showed. But even then the radiologist thought it was benign.”
She and her husband, Les Freeman, were always very healthy.
“My husband and I always worked out — it’s kind of a bummer really,” she said. “… I did everything I was supposed to do.”
Freeman opted for a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction and takes tamoxifen, an oral chemotherapy.
“Seventy percent of women will feel the breast cancer,” said Baker, who also found her own. “I tell patients to make it part of their Sunday routine. That way if you forget twice a month, then at least you remembered twice, and that’s twice as much as is recommended.”
At the time of Baker’s diagnosis, her sons, Donald and David, were ages 4 and 5, and her daughter, Peggy, was 12.
“I was diagnosed a month after my 50th birthday,” said Baker, 53, who opted for a double mastectomy followed by a total hysterectomy. “I wanted to do everything I could to see them raised. I didn’t want anything making estrogen.”
Baker, who takes Aromasin, swims on a regular basis, keeps her weight in the lower level of normal and limits soy products to once a month.
“Someone once said to me, you have to find your champion through this process,” Freeman said as she tried to hold back tears. “He is my husband. He never missed a total of eight surgeries. At the end of the day, family I think is the most important thing.”
Their son, 13, went all out dressing in pink, from his hat, shirt and feather boa to his socks and shoelaces, for Breast Cancer Awareness Day at Surfside Middle School.
“I came back to work and realized there are always people worse off than me and helped guide myself through it, focusing on others rather than my own pain. … I go home at the end of day and always give my son a big hug,” Freeman said.
Baker has written a book about her personal experience, but hasn’t had a chance to slow down and finish editing it. She is quick to share her story, from losing her parents in two separate car accidents at age 18 to fighting breast cancer.
“The day I found out was the day after Thanksgiving,” Baker said. “My brother had just flown in from Pittsburgh after losing his fiancée to colon cancer. We were in the car and I said, (Psalm 30:5) ‘Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.’ ”
Her son, David, who was 5 at the time, asked, “Who’s Joy, and what time is she coming?”
Baker’s faith has been her source of strength, but it doesn’t mean she hasn’t had tough days.
“Knowing God is sovereign,” Baker said. “He is in control. And He was going to hold our hand no matter what and give us courage. … Not only is He a sovereign God, but He loves me. Even His love allowed that to happen to me. He uses that to make me stronger.”
‘PUT ON YOUR PINK BRA’ WALK
What: Making Strides Against Breast Cancer noncompetitive 5K Walk (3.1 miles) to raise awareness about breast cancer
When: 8 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 27
Where: Pier Park, Panama City Beach
American Cancer Society: Cancer.org; or call the information center at (800) 227-2345