EAST COUNTY — Maureen LaTessa knew her family history.
And it saved her life.
At 52 years old, she is now cancer-free, after discovering a cancerous lump in her left breast in May 2008 and having a double mastectomy.
“I caught my cancer early because my mom is a breast-cancer survivor,” said LaTessa, membership director at Lakewood Ranch Golf & Country Club. “She was diagnosed 17 years ago, and she’s battling it again. My grandmother died of (breast cancer).”
LaTessa will join thousands of Sarasota/Bradenton residents Oct. 20, for the American Cancer Society’s annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5K walk, at the Sarasota Polo Club, 8201 Polo Club Lane, Lakewood Ranch. The walk starts at 9 a.m.; registration starts at 7:30 a.m. Attendees are encouraged to carpool to the event.
The event also will be an enrollment site for a cancer study.
“(A breast-cancer diagnosis) is not a death sentence,” LaTessa said. “There’s hope. There are wonderful advances they’ve made. The goal is to raise enough money to find a cure.”
LaTessa said she’s been familiar with the American Cancer Society for years because of her mother’s health. She and her family used the organization’s Road to Recovery program, which provides cancer patients transportation to chemotherapy treatments and other appointments, as needed. However, she was not aware of all the programs it offered until attended a Making Strides kickoff party in May.
Development of the cancer-blocking drug, Tamoxfin, that helped keep LaTessa’s cancer in remission for eight years, was funded through the American Cancer Society.
“I knew about portions of what the American Cancer Society had to offer,” LaTessa said. “Once I was in that room — it really opened my eyes.
“I didn’t want anybody to know (about my breast cancer) when it happened,” she said. “I didn’t want them to feel sorry for me or to answer questions. I felt like it was a private thing. After that lunch, though, I thought, ‘My God, stop taking yourself so (seriously).’”
Knowing her family’s medical history, LaTessa began getting mammograms when she was 40 years old. She discovered the lump during a self-breast exam when she was 48. After getting opinions from two doctors and learning she had calcifications in her right breast, LaTessa decided to have a double mastectomy operation, rather than treating her left breast only with a lumpectomy and radiation.
“I really didn’t want to take any chances,” LaTessa said. “This was the youngest I was ever going to be. I didn’t want to treat one side and then a year later, go down the road and be in the same (situation).”
“It’s a very personal choice,” she said. “That decision (to have both breasts removed), I’m convinced has saved my life, with my mother and grandmother (both having had breast cancer). It all opened my eyes to exercise, eating healthy and having a good attitude.”
LaTessa said she sees the Making Strides event as a way she can support and encourage other breast-cancer patients, while raising funds and awareness to fight cancer.
Individuals and teams can register for the Making Strides walk at makingstrides.acsevents.org.
Contact Pam Eubanks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IF YOU GO
Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk
When: 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 20
Where: Sarasota Polo Club, 8201 Polo Club Lane, Lakewood Ranch
Cost: Free, but Making Strides is a fundraising event. Attendees are encouraged to raise money.
Details: Registration starts at 7:30 a.m.; 5K walk starts at 9 a.m. Other festivities include cancer study enrollment, live entertainment and children’s activities. Attendees are encouraged to carpool. Exit at state roads 64 or 70 and take Lorraine Road south to the Polo Club to reduce traffic on University Parkway.
Making Strides site for cancer study enrollment
This year’s local Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event also will serve as an enrollment site for the American Cancer Society’s newest cancer study, called Cancer Prevention Study 3.
Enrollment will run on site from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. To participate, individuals must be between the ages of 30 and 65 and must not have had cancer, other than basal- or- squamous-cell cancers, which are skin cancers.
At a designated tent at the event, participants will complete a brief survey, provide physical measurements and give a small blood sample. The process will take about 30 minutes, said Cynthia Dunlap, area executive director for the American Cancer Society.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help prevent cancer,” Dunlap said. “It’s a very serious commitment, but it’s not a time-consuming commitment.”
Study participants will be mailed a survey to complete every two to three years. The survey will take about 30 minutes to complete.
Dunlap said the ACS needs to have a minimum of 300,000 participants for the study by Dec. 31, 2013.
“We’re about halfway there, and we’ve been enrolling people for several years now,” she said. “It is a priority for the organization to achieve this enrollment number. No one (besides the ACS) is prepared to do this type of study. It’s us or no one, and we want to make sure we are able to continue this study, which is critically important.”
Participants of the CPS 3 study must enroll at enrollment sites; the ACS will partner with Sarasota Memorial Hospital to offer two community-enrollment sites at which individuals can enroll over three days in February.
Dunlap said the ACS’s original cancer study, called CPS 1, showed a link between tobacco use and lung-cancer deaths. It also showed a correlation between obesity and overall survival.
A second study, CPS 2, started in 1982 and is still active, but participants are getting too old to paricipate. The study is being continued as CPS 3 to better account for changes in lifestyles, medication and other factors, Dunlap said.