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Walk offers community chance to celebrate surviving cancer

Staying positive very important in battle, Auburn resident says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Local residents will have a chance to support cancer survivors and hear their inspiring stories Tuesday before the Stage 3 start of the Amgen Tour of California in Downtown Auburn. One Auburn resident is happy to be alive after her battle with breast cancer, and hopes her story will inspire others to stay positive. The Breakaway from Cancer one-mile walk is scheduled to begin at 8:15 a.m. at the starting line of the race at the intersection of Lincoln Way and High Street. The parade route runs down High Street, turns right on Oakwood Drive, turns right onto Lincoln Way, flows back up Lincoln and High to turn right on Cleveland Avenue, turns right on Lincoln Way and ends again in Central Square. Jim Northey, event director for the parade, said he hopes the walk brings an understanding to the community that the Tour of California directly relates to cancer survival. “The importance of it is because most people don’t even know what Amgen is,” Northey said. “They are a company that makes a lot of different drugs for different conditions, disorders and diseases, and they make a lot of cancer drugs. Most people see Amgen associated with the cycling event. They really don’t know that Amgen is related to cancer.” Amgen formed Breakaway from Cancer in 2005, Northey said. The organization provides a number of resources in the areas of prevention, fighting cancer, financial assistance and survivorship, according to its website. Each day of the Tour, one rider is scheduled to receive Breakaway from Cancer’s Most Courageous Rider jersey. Margareta Swann, owner of Golden Swann Jewelers on Lincoln Way, and a cancer survivor, is slated to begin Stage 3 of the race Tuesday morning by firing the starting gun. Auburn resident Amber Small, 33, is one of the Placer County residents participating in the walk and VIP cancer survivor tent Tuesday. In 2008, at the age of 30, Small was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer, a very aggressive form. “I was diagnosed in February of 2008, and it was a complete shock,” Small said. “It was not what I was expecting at all. I found a huge lump in my breast. I thought it might be a cyst … and eventually had a biopsy of it. Cancer was the furthest thing from my mind.” There was no history of breast cancer in Small’s family. In 2010 Small tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation, which means her three children have a 50 percent chance of carrying the gene. Small said having the gene doesn’t mean there is more cancer in you, it means that instead of your body creating antibodies to fight the cancer, it instead helps the cancer grow. Small, who works as an endoscopy technician at Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital, said she had to take seven months off from her job as she underwent treatment. “My first treatment I had is I had a lumpectomy,” she said. “Then I went through chemotherapy. After I was finished with chemotherapy … I did radiation.” The situation was tough on her three children, Jeremy, 17, Joeb, 12, and Jezibelle, 9, but she didn’t allow herself to break down, because she knew she had to be strong for them, Small said. “They were really good through the whole time,” she said. “When I was going through chemo, you lose all your white blood cells, so you lose the ability to fight the infections. So, they couldn’t have their friends over. But they never complained. One of the biggest things was when I lost my hair.” Small said one morning she woke up and her hair was coming out in handfuls, so she shaved her head before her children got home from school, which took them by surprise. Although reality seemed to set in at that time, the whole experience wasn’t the same for Small as it was for those watching her go through it, she said. “For me it was like an out-of-body experience,” Small said. “My family and friends were more worried about it than I was I think.” Small said her co-workers supported her by coming over twice a week and making dinner for her family, and her mother came out every other week from Colorado. Small is now cancer free, but her doctors are closely monitoring her to make sure the cancer doesn’t return. Small said positives and negatives came from her experience. “The negative was definitely just having cancer, and going through the treatments and being out of work,” she said. “The positive, you definitely look at life a lot differently. It makes you appreciate what you have. When I start stressing out about money, or bills, or I have got to get this done or the house is dirty, you just kind of sit back and think, ‘At least I’m here to worry about this.’” Dr. Gurvinder Shaheed, Small’s oncologist, said he is very proud of Small overcoming her cancer, but wants to keep monitoring her closely to make sure it doesn’t come back. Shaheed said he is glad residents will have the chance to participate in the walk and meet cancer survivors so they understand that a cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence. “That is so important, because most of the time somebody gets diagnosed with cancer and they go online,” Shaheed said. “They hear the bad stories and they get discouraged. When people talk to somebody that has been through this, they can share their experience and see, ‘Yeah, she’s doing good.’ There is light at the end of the tunnel.” Shaheed said he thinks it’s important for local residents to know there are a plethora of cancer resources in Auburn, so those who are diagnosed should hardly ever have to leave the area for treatment. Small said when fighting cancer its important to eat healthy and do what doctors tell you, as well as keeping your attitude from turning negative. “Just stay focused on the positive, and look at the whole big picture,” she said. “Make sure you go to those doctors appointments and listen to what your doctors say. I guess in the end you listen to your heart. Stay true to yourself and listen to your heart.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com ------------------------------------------------------ Breakaway from Cancer one-mile parade When: 8:15 a.m. Tuesday Where: Central Square, the start of Stage 3 Amgen Tour of California Who can participate: Everyone from the community is welcome to walk and will receive free hats, T-shirts and bracelets. Also at the event: A VIP tent for 12 Placer County cancer survivors