“I’m here today because a niece of mine has had breast cancer,” said Kathy Fitzpatrick. “I came because I think it’s a nice event.”
Janet Rose, a cancer researcher, came to show her support for a cure. She also came to see keynote speaker Peggy Fleming.
“Peggy is definitely a bonus,” laughed Rose.
Rose wasn’t alone. Olympic gold medalist and breast cancer survivor Fleming drew a sold-out crowd to last weekend’s Save a Life Sister (SALS) champagne luncheon and fashion show at Humphrey’s on the Delta in Antioch.
The event, hosted by the Delta Memorial Hospital Foundation, spotlighted a fashion show by JC Penney featuring models comprised of local breast cancer survivors, and a raffle for gift baskets filled with everything from pampering spa potions to Oakland A’s tickets.
Fleming, a figure skating icon and San Jose native who won the gold medal at the 1968 winter Olympics in Grenoble, France, shared her experiences – on and off the ice – with the audience of mostly women, many survivors themselves.
“Cancer doesn’t care who we are or what we do,” said Fleming. “It’s a devastating disease that can strike anyone … When I was diagnosed with breast cancer (in l998), my focus shifted from my career to my health. My life became a blur of biopsies, surgeons and appointments. I had always tried to keep my public and private lives separate, but when this happened to me I wanted people to know what my attitude was going to be, and how I would be dealing with this.”
Sue Graham wanted to know too, but her reasons for attending the luncheon were a little more personal. She came to the event with two photographs: one of her as a teenager posing with Fleming on an ice rink in Belmont after she won a Skating Day school fundraiser featuring the figure skating star. The other item was a Christmas card Fleming sent to Graham years ago when Graham was in the hospital. Hearing of Graham’s illness, Fleming had sent her the holiday card, which included a picture of Fleming and her husband and son.
The SALS event was the first time Graham had seen Fleming in more than 20 years, and she was hoping to get an opportunity to say hello. “I did get to talk to her and she remembered me. It was very positive,” said Graham. “She’s a very nice lady.”
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and while Fleming’s message was one of hope it was also a cautionary tale. She said that the lessons she learned on the ice helped her face her biggest personal challenge, and she urged all women to stay vigilant in their health care.
“Every challenge is really a gift, and I think you find out you are stronger than you think when you’re faced with something,” said Fleming. “You just have to do your homework – it’s a daily thing (taking care of your health). It’s about eating right and exercising and doing your part to stay strong.
“I’m so happy to be here to cheer everyone on. There is a very special bond with cancer survivors. We can all be sisters and champions for maintaining good health.”
The SALS program provides annual mammograms to uninsured and qualifying women in East Contra Costa County. Today, the program offers no-cost ultrasound and biopsies in addition to digital mammograms. Last year, SALS provided more than $28,000 in services to East County women. SALS donors have also made it possible for the program to sponsor a Nurse Navigator at Sutter Delta Medical Center. The Nurse Navigator connects patients diagnosed with breast cancer to the resources and services they need.