Local event raises cancer awareness

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Linda Smith, News Editor

The fourth annual Sole Sisters event took place Saturday, Oct. 6, at the Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center at Dallas. This event began as a way to show the genetic link between breast cancer and ovarian cancer, which are known as “sister cancers.” According to the University of Michigan (U of M) Comprehensive Cancer Center, ovarian cancer is linked to the same genes that are linked to breast cancer, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. The American Cancer Society further explains that breast and ovarian cancer run in families most of the time and can even be present simultaneously, a condition known as hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome (HBOC.)

Linda Smith and Shannon Miller at the fourth annual Sole Sisters event.

Sole Sisters promotes awareness of these cancers and supports those who suffer from them through different events. The first event of the morning was a half-mile walk in the Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center park, a feat for many of the survivors still in recovery, with survivors of breast and/or ovarian cancer carrying symbolic torches.

Afterward, the program began in the Tom Hunt Auditorium. Welcoming the audience was Heather Rodriguez, ovarian cancer survivor and founder and CEO of The Cancer has Cancer Foundation, a charity partly dedicated to funding molecular cancer research, which has been recognized by Texas Governor Rick Perry for its efforts in helping battle this disease. Then, JaNeene Jones, RN, chief operating officer of the Baylor Cancer Center and vice president of Oncology at the Baylor Health Care System, introduced keynote speaker Shannon Miller, Olympic gold medalist and ovarian cancer survivor.

Miller was the leader of the 1996 “Magnificent Seven” gymnastics team, which was the first American team to win gold in the women’s team gymnastics competition. At those games, Miller herself won gold in the balance beam routine, a notoriously challenging event in gymnastics. Before she got on the beam, she recalled something her mother had told her.

“She said, ‘All you can do is go out and give 100 percent. That’s all anyone can ask of you and that’s all that you can ask of yourself,’” Miller shared.

Miller said that she would carry that saying into her fight with cancer. She was diagnosed in January of 2011 with a baseball-sized germ cell tumor over her left ovary. According to the U of M Comprehensive Cancer Center website, germ cell cancer accounts for no more than 5 percent of ovarian cancers. Miller’s tumor was surgically removed on Jan. 13, 2011. She then went through nine weeks of chemotherapy while raising her then-16-month-old son, Rocco.

Miller said that after finding out that she would have to face chemotherapy, she thought to herself, “OK, competition. I’m a pretty good competitor.” She said it was analogous to falling off of the balance beam in gymnastics: Crying will not really help your score, so “you can get up, and you can keep going and minimize the deduction, and keep moving forward.”

Miller finished her speech with a recognition of other breast and ovarian cancer survivors, whom she referred to as “warriors.” Miller stressed the importance of events like Sole Sisters, “not only to raise funds, but to offer support and assistance for those whose lives have been touched by a cancer diagnosis.”

While many people know that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and much attention is paid to it, fewer know that September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. This event, held in very early October, seeks to link these two months of awareness while celebrating those who have fought these cancers and won.

“My ultimate goal for this event is that women can take the necessary proactive approach to their health and become more aware about these two main cancers that affect women,” said Jennifer Williams, oncology events and community relations coordinator. “Out of all the events I plan throughout the year, Sole Sisters is one of my favorites. It’s well worth it in the end when you see the total outcome and receive feedback from especially the survivors.”

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