One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society. To bring this to light during breast cancer aware- ness month, the St. Olaf Cancer Con- nection (SCC) hosted a panel on Oct. 27 with four local breast cancer survivors who shared their personal experiences.
The annual event opened with a short introduction and educational video, de- scribing breast cancer facts and detection information. SCC provided information- al packets from the American Cancer Society for all in attendance. The focus of the event then turned to the stories of each survivor.
“The personal perspectives on cancer are so much more moving and real than just reading cancer facts or hearing it from a class or a doctor,” SCC president Ellen Sutter ’16 said. “Cancer is so preva- lent in our society but often, people don’t know how to handle it when someone they know gets cancer.”
The first speaker, Marcia Peterson, opened by describing how just how prevalent and unexpected a breast cancer diagnosis can be. A Northfield resident and former staff member at St. Olaf, she was diagnosed at age 52, despite having no family history of breast cancer. As the other panelists would later attest, cancer is often not detected by a mammogram, but by self-examination.
The wide range of cancer’s impact was demonstrated also by Marcia Warring, another panelist who, while on vacation, was diagnosed with breast cancer on the same day her husband was diag- nosed with colon cancer. According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, one in two men and one in three women will develop some form of cancer over their lifetime – the disease impacts nearly ev- eryone in some way or another.
SCC is a group of students that aims to raise awareness, fundraise for cancer re- search and support those affected by can- cer – both at St. Olaf and in the North- field community. The panel fit in with the organization’s mission by highlighting the personal side of the disease, as well as educating participants.
The stories of the four panelists over- lapped in some general areas, such as the failure of mammograms to detect
the cancer, emotional hardship during and after treatment and support received from family and friends. However, each experience was totally unique in regards to the course the cancer took and how it affected the victim. Each adopted an in- dividualized mentality to help them deal with their situation, whether it involved faith, family and/or humor.
“You need love. You need support. you need people to say, ‘you’re going to do this’,” survivor Brenda Larson said.
The discussion of dealing with life’s unexpected difficulties, whether personal or those of a loved one, proved to be very relatable. On subject of support, some panelists stressed the importance of be- ing intentional and aware with support- ing a loved one going through a difficult time.
“Everyone is very different and re- quires different types of support,” panelist Kirsten Kemp said. “Take your cues from them.”
Incredible stories of support certainly arose in the survivor’s stories, from little gestures of compassion to life-changing favors. Audience members were touched by the compassion, optimism and strength evident in the stories told in a genuine manner, with humor added ap- propriately.
“Cancer gives you gifts,” Warring said. “When I go to get a mammogram now, I only have to get one boob squeezed. But mostly, you realize the small stuff doesn’t matter.”
From finding joy in life’s simplicities to reevaluating their lifestyles, the women all came out of their battle with bits of wisdom that they openly shared.
“Panelists often tell us that participat- ing in the panel was therapeutic for them, because they finally got to talk honestly with an interested audience. It is our hope that their honesty, emotion and advice hits home better than any informational pamphlet could,” Sutter said.
SCC plans to continue fighting for cancer victims, starting with their STO- vember campaign this month. Students are challenged to raise money for the Relay for Life in April by going a month without shaving their face, underarms or legs. To learn more about SCC’s upcom- ing events, contact email@example.com.