HANFORD — A few days before her 31st birthday last year, Kay Mejia said everything she knew about life took a turn when she got pathology results revealing she had breast cancer.
“Cancer is the ultimate unfamiliar,” Mejia said. “It terrorizes the bravest among us, shapes our relationships and tests out faith; but even through this grim diagnosis, so much support rained and flooded on us.”
Mejia, along with Rachelle Conyers, are “A Time to Heal” participants who shared their stories with the crowd Tuesday at the Third Annual Think Pink Luncheon sponsored by Adventist Health.
Think Pink is a breast cancer awareness event that was held inside the Civic Auditorium. Along with the speakers, there were also informational booths where attendees could learn more about breast cancer and services available in the Central Valley.
According to some studies, breast cancer affects one in every eight women, and also some men on rare occasions.
“A Time to Heal” is an Adventist Health program that was launched in Hanford in 2014 and has since expanded to Selma.
The program was designed to help breast cancer patients’ transition back into the world. Laurie Schirling, Adventist Health Breast Care Center director, said it helps with not only the physical issues that arise with cancer, but the emotional ones too.
The support group educates the patients about proper nutrition, improving their relationships at home and helping them create lasting friendships. The program has expanded to offer the same services to patients recovering from all types of cancer.
Patients try yoga, dancing, meditation and art, among other things, and the biggest part is sharing their stories with others, Schirling said.
Mejia said cancer cannot stop love, shatter hope, corrode faith, destroy peace, kill friendship, suppress memories, kill courage or conquer spirit. Cancer can, however, enable love, encourage hope, create friendships, make meaningful memories, strengthen your soul and heal your spirit, she said.
Mejia said “A Time to Heal” helped her through the process and connected her with others who were going through the same ordeal. She said the group helped her heal just as much as her treatment did and realized her cancer journey was “not meant to be traveled alone.”
“We are stronger together and we are stronger than cancer,” Mejia said.
Conyers said the program inspired her to be a fighter and feel like herself again after her diagnosis. She said it’s easy to feel sorry for yourself if you have cancer, but even after dealing with cancer twice in her life now, she said she doesn’t pay much attention to her prognosis and just tries to live her life to the fullest.
“There’s just so much to live for,” Conyers said.
Schirling talked about breast cancer statistics and stressed the importance of getting screened.
“The more people who get that screening, the earlier we find it,” Schirling said. “Stage II and stage I breast cancer today has a 98 percent survival rating. That’s huge, because when I started this 35 years ago, only 40 percent of our patients lived.”
This year’s speakers also included local news anchor Stefani Booroojian from KSEE 24.
Booroojian said this month marks the anniversary of the “Buddy Check 24” program that started on KSEE 24 in 1996.
The concept is that a woman picks a “buddy” and makes the commitment to remind that buddy to do a breast self-exam on the 24th of every month to get into the habit of checking for breast cancer.
“It truly has been the most rewarding program I’ve ever been involved in,” Booroojian said, adding she’s proud that the program helps empower women.
Boorrojian said spreading awareness for breast cancer is one of the most important things people can do. She said the month is not about wearing a pink ribbon, but about remembering women are important and need to protect themselves.
“Hopefully, someday, we all can live when breast cancer is no longer a vicious enemy and just a distant memory,” Booroojian said.