“I was devastated,” Chern said as tears welled up in her eyes. “I still can’t talk about it without crying.”
That was 14 years ago.
Today, Chern is preparing to take part in the 2010 Northern Nevada Komen Race for the Cure as a survivor. Chern said she has taken part in the Reno race since its inception in the late 1990s. She also has participated in Komen races in Indiana and Minnesota with her daughters.
“I did my first Race for the Cure in San Francisco in 1997 because there was not a race here (in Reno),” Chern said. “I’ve done it every year since.”
Chern moved to Reno in 1973 from southern California. She was diagnosed with cancer in 1996 and completed treatments in 1997, but her link to the late Susan G. Komen goes back much further.
“I actually went to Richwood Community High School in Peoria, Ill., with Susan G. Komen,” Chern said. “I didn’t really know her very well, but she was in my class.”
Komen died of breast cancer in 1980, when she was in her mid-30s. Komen’s younger sister, Nancy Goodman Brinker, founded the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in 1982 in her sister’s memory.
The Komen foundation raises money for breast cancer research and works to increase breast cancer awareness. The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure is a 5K run or walk that is held annually in cities all over the United States to raise funds for research.
“The Komen Race for the Cure Series raises significant funds and awareness for the fight against breast cancer, celebrates breast cancer survivorship and honors those who have lost their battle with the disease,” the organization’s website states.
Chern will participate in the local race, which begins at 8 a.m. Sunday at Boomtown Casino & Hotel with registration and team photos. Event organizers said they expect 5,000 participants to turn out for the event.
“The race is amazing,” Chern said. “It is a sea of pink, and to see all the people on the course is so emotional. It is so emotional to see that people come out and do this to offer not only their financial support, but their emotional support as well.”
Emotional support is important to people who are going through treatments for breast cancer, Chern said, as she recalled her own experience.
“I’d always been very healthy,” Chern said. “But I found a lump.”
When Chern found a lump in her breast in November 1996, she visited her gynecologist, who opted to just “watch it for a while.”
In December 1996, Chern had the lump removed. She spent most of the next year receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatments, which she finished in August 1997.
During the treatments, Chern said she began to feel more optimistic, and attending support groups and talking to others about the disease was a large contributing factor to her optimism.
“Once I got over the initial trauma of the diagnosis and the cancer and lymph nodes were removed, I felt better,” she said. “Action was being taken and I was much more optimistic.”
Chern said going to her support group was “very, very worthwhile. You start to get a sense of humor about it.”
Pointing to a series of small dots tattooed on her chest, Chern explained the dots were placed for the purpose of accuracy during radiation. “I joked that I might want some sort of a dragon pattern tattoo instead of just connect-the-dots.”
Breast cancer is all a memory for Chern, who still does regular self-examinations and visits the doctor on a regular basis. Now she focuses on being healthy, having fun and spending time with her children and grandchildren. On Oct. 17, she will be taking part in the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco with a group of friends from the Reno area.
“You just need to live your life,” Chern said. “It’s more important than getting the lawn mowed or the dishes done.”
When asked what advice she would give to women regarding self-breast exams and regular doctor visits, Chern laughed, “Be vigilant. ‘The girls’ are your friends. Enjoy them, don’t ignore them.”