When Karen Sigmund was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2011, it wasn’t her first cancer rodeo. She had been diagnosed nine years earlier with uterine cancer.
“It was so early that I didn’t receive any treatments (for the uterine cancer),” she said. She did, however, see an oncologist every year afterward and received regular mammograms. But the tests came up negative until, eight and a half years later, she received the devastating news that she would now have to fight breast cancer.
But Sigmund is a survivor. She had a mastectomy and rounds of chemotherapy that helped strengthen her fight to beat the disease she refused to let win. She sought treatment from a cancer specialist and continues to fight the good fight for herself and others who are walking a similar path.
She never loses her positive outlook on the beauty of life nor does she miss an opportunity to use her experience to help others.
Sigmund retold her story in an essay as one of four local applicants who registered to win a scholarship for the annual Breast Cancer Wellness Thrivers Cruise, which took place April 21 through April 28.
“Her entry was over the top,” said Carole Sanek, the leading advocate of Breast Cancer Wellness, a nonprofit organization that tailors its services to meet the special needs of breast cancer patients in recovery. She is the director of the Breast Cancer Wellness Ambassador Program.
“I was so excited to give her the news,” Sanek said. “I mean I was screaming.”
Sanek’s affiliation with the organization began about a year and a half ago when she won a cruise, sponsored by Breast Cancer Wellness Magazine.
“My career just really took off,” she said. “The magazine has been really good to me.”
Inspired by the amount of support needed by cancer survivors, Sanek created Healing Beyond Hope, which brings awareness and hope to Hernando County by raising funds to help send local cancer patients on the Breast Cancer Wellness Thrivers Cruise.
This year’s cruise embarked from Fort Lauderdale on the Princess Ruby for seven days and set port in the Bahamas, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, Princess Cays and Nassau.
The annual cruises provide networking and support opportunities to Thrivers, including empowering and informative workshops.
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 1 million people in the United States get cancer each year. With breakthrough treatments, as many as 2 out of 3 cancer patients now have a five-year-or-more survival rate.
And it comes down to research, which is the heart of the American Cancer Society’s mission. “For more than 65 years, the American Cancer Society has been finding answers that save lives, from changes in lifestyle to new approaches in therapies to improving cancer patients’ quality of life. In fact, no single, not-for-profit organization in the U.S. has invested more to find the causes and cures for cancers.
For instance, a report on ABC News by Rachel Carbonell last year discussed promising new findings in the war against blood cancers. “A trial will be open for both lymphomas and leukaemias that have not responded optimally to other treatments,” said Professor Grant McArthur at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne.
According to the report, a breakthrough treatment is aimed at killing cancerous blood cells while leaving healthy cells largely unharmed.
“Our initial studies have focused on cancers that are hard to treat,” McArthur said, “because it’s a real unmet need there and patients with those cancers desperately need new treatments, which is why we’re focusing initially on that area.”
What is so unique about this treatment, he added, is its ability to target cancerous cells while having only minimal effect on the healthy ones.
All cells in the body need to make proteins to grow, McArthur explained. “You can actually turn off protein synthesis and selectively treat the cancer cells without killing the normal cells,” he added.
Financial support that funds the research leading to breakthrough treatments comes from a myriad of resources, not the least of which is the American Cancer Society’s annual Relays for Life.
Hernando County holds three separate Relays each year, said American Cancer Society Community Representative Jean Herberts.
The Relays were held at Weeki Wachee High School on April 12, Nature Coast Technical High School on April 20 and Hernando High School on April 27.
The Relays are always a big success, inspiring individual teams to raise money for the American Cancer Society. The entire community comes together to raise awareness and support for a cure of a disease that, in some way, affects everyone.
Yet Herberts is quick to point out that the fight for cancer doesn’t begin and end with the Relays. While this year’s estimated amount, raised from the three nights, was a whopping $209,000 from around 3,000 volunteers, that success is only part of the whole story.
“Relays are a time for people to come together for one night and honor and remember those who are fighting or have fought to win the battle against cancer,” Herberts said.
The American Cancer Society, which is celebrating 100 years in existence, is available year-round, “advocating for change, educating for kids and developing lifelong friendships,” Herberts added.
The website is filled with valuable information about the battle against cancer, support for cancer survivors, information about breakthrough treatments and trials and how to get involved through volunteer work and charitable donations.
“We are like the best kept secret,” Herberts said.
Karen Sigmund is a strong supporter of cancer research and a Relay for Life participant each year. She was part of a team that, through various efforts, helped raise part of that $209,000 for the American Cancer Society.
“I got a good prognosis because somebody fundraised before me,” Sigmund said.
For more information about the American Cancer Society or local Relay for Life, visit the website at www.relayforlife.org.