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Washington Voices

Surrounded by support – and sisters

Patsy Burger and Deborah Chan walk the Susan G. Komen race course.
Patsy Burger and Deborah Chan walk the Susan G. Komen race course.

I stood in a sea of pink and felt my eyes well up with tears.

The breast cancer survivors surrounding me, as we posed for a photo on the INB Performing Arts Center steps, were my new tribe. We had all made it.

Walking the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure on April 21 with survivors, loved ones and supporters was an incredible experience for me. Participants in pink tutus, boas, funny hats and face paint were all there to celebrate recovery, and support breast cancer treatment and research.

Wearing a pink fleece jacket decorated with two gift scarves from Richard’s co-workers at Central Pre-Mix (a race sponsor), I walked 1 1/4 miles of the course with Richard and our friend Patsy Burger. While they walked on, I sat on the post office steps to wait for them. Seeing me there alone, several participants paused to ask if I was OK, and one woman wheeled back to me and said, “You’re Deborah Chan!” She recognized me from my columns. “I want to let you know I’m a 14-year survivor,” she said, “so keep your chin up.” Wow.

Once Richard and Patsy rejoined me, we walked, arms linked, to the finish line. Crossing it was the definitive and victorious end to my cancer treatment. Done at last!

The Susan G. Komen Foundation provides sobering statistics for breast cancer in the U.S.:

Every three minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer and every 13 minutes a woman dies from it; 85 percent of breast cancers occur in those, like me, with no family history of it. Women older than 40 comprise 95 percent of cases, and it’s the leading cause of death among women ages 40 to 59. One in eight women, also like me, will develop invasive breast cancer.

But there are encouraging statistics:

More than 2.6 million breast cancer survivors are alive in the U.S. The five-year relative survival rate for early-stage cancer that hasn’t spread beyond the breast is now 99 percent, compared to 74 percent in 1974. As my cancer had metastasized to my lymph nodes, I would once have had to have a mastectomy, but instead was able to have a lumpectomy with treatment.

Ladies, I urge you to get regular mammograms. My cancer wasn’t detected during a March physical nor a July gynecology exam last year. It was my yearly mammogram, with follow-up and a needle core biopsy that revealed it. Without mammography, it could have grown in secret to much more terrible proportions.

Getting “squished” can be painful, but your life is worth it.

I like to say that cancer is a crap sandwich, and I got served. But little did I know that I’d be eating it at the cool kids’ table. The cancer community – professionals, survivors and supporters – is amazing. They’re the heaping bowl of awesome sauce at the dread feast.

For example, we have a fantastic women’s cancer store in Spokane, The Essential Woman, at Fifth and Sherman. The wonderful, caring women (one a survivor) who operate it offer great products and assistance. They’ve always made me feel like a million bucks.

And I’ve begun attending a Cancer Care Northwest support group in the Valley, filled with humorous and compassionate women. Just last week those with mastectomies and reconstruction bared their breasts without embarrassment to encourage a woman facing surgery. I’ve been creating a helpful step-by-step skin care, hair/wig and cosmetics tip sheet for going through treatment (contact me for a copy).

Over the past nine months I’ve been squashed, drilled, scanned, sliced, diced, poked, poisoned, de-haired, tattooed and radiation-burned to beat cancer. On the upside, with my new incandescent glow, we probably won’t need a nightlight for years (ha!).

But like a butterfly, I’ve emerged from a dark cocoon into a glorious spring teeming with new life and color.

My cancer journey has been quite an odyssey and I couldn’t have endured it as well as I did without you. Your touching letters of encouragement, stories, support, good wishes, prayers and new friendships gave Richard and me hope, comfort and blessing throughout this epic journey.

I have everything to be thankful for.

And, as I’ve discovered, sisters everywhere.

You can reach Deborah Chan at Previous columns are available at