Women Live ‘More Than Pink’ Lives to Help Others Through Komen CSNJ Race for the Cure
Best Friends Choose Fundraising, Education After Losing Their Sisters
Ashleigh Jones and Melissa Novosel have too much in common. Both childhood friends experienced the loss of a loved one, when breast cancer claimed the lives of a sister and sister-in-law, both at the age of 38.
And the desire to keep their sisters’ memory alive drives each woman to take action through educating others and fundraising for the Susan G. Komen Central and South Jersey’s Race for the Cure, which is scheduled for Nov. 6 at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson.
This philosophy of wanting to help others and have an impact of breast cancer is part of a national “More Than Pink” initiative that moves the fight against breast cancer from “awareness” to meaningful action. Wearing pink shirts is no longer good enough. Individuals who are making a difference and having an impact in the fight against the disease are fundraising and walking in the Komen Race for the Cure.
“I couldn’t save or help my sister Fawn, so in an effort to save others and keep her legacy alive, it is important to me to move forward and help other people,” said Jones of Southampton, who remembers when her then-25-year-old sister was diagnosed with seven different types of breast cancer in 2001.
Since the Komen Affiliate was founded in 2005, it has funded 71,713 mammograms in Central and South Jersey and provided 259,495 individuals with breast cancer education. The other 25 percent of raised funds go toward national breast cancer research to help find the cures.
There is still more screening and education to do while research is being conducted for a cure. Each year, 7,000 New Jersey residents are diagnosed with breast cancer. The state has the fourth highest death rate from breast cancer in the United States with the seventh highest number of new cases.
“Breast cancer didn’t come to the forefront for me until my sister-in-law was diagnosed,” said Novosel of Allentown, who also lost an aunt to the disease. “Amy was so young and close to my age, we were very close. It was very eye-opening.
“I was used to elderly women, those in their late 70s and 80s, being diagnosed, which seemed normal,” Novosel explained. “But when a 35-year-old was diagnosed, it was ‘un-normal.’ She had no family history and I started questioning why. Why would someone her age become sick? It was a push for me to look at my own health.”
Thinking about her own health motivated Novosel to take action.
“When I talk to others, they didn’t know they needed to be screened,” Novosel said. “It became a mission for me to teach others that they need to know their bodies. That’s how the Komen mission impacted me and encourages me to be ‘More Than Pink.’”
Novosel has participated in the Komen Race for the Cure since 2010, the year Amy was diagnosed. “I formed a team because when people started finding out about Amy’s diagnosis, they wanted to help in whatever way they could,” said Novosel, who still uses the team name, Amy’s Angels. “This was my way of showing Amy that people were behind her, supporting her and we all cared. We participated that first October, so this will be our sixth year.”
Novosel’s team, Amy’s Angels, has raised more than $36,000 since 2010.
Komen’s Mission of Screening and Education
“I love that the majority of the money goes to our local communities,” Novosel said. “When you work with a national organization, sometimes you don’t know exactly where the money is going. Chances are, the money I raise though Komen Central and South Jersey will impact someone I know.”
Komen Central and South Jersey has designated Monmouth County—where Novosel lives—as an area of need. The county has low rates of mammography screenings and a lower percentage of women screened than the rest of the service area’s average and the state, according to the Affiliate’s 2015 Community Profile Report. The study also found that Monmouth County residents face accessibility and transportation issues, particularly rural residents. Compared to the 13 counties in the Komen Central and South Jersey service area, Monmouth County has:
- The third highest rate of new breast cancer cases (or the third highest incidence rate).
- A fairly low screening proportion with 24 percent of women who have not had a screening mammogram within the past two years, which translates to 76,152women.
- The third lowest five-year survival rate among Hispanic/Latina women.
Monmouth County residents are being served this year by a Komen grant, made possible by funds raised at the Komen Central and South Jersey Race for the Cure, awarded to Hackensack Meridian Health that funds patient education programs and early detection with the goal of increasing screening mammograms among medically-underserved women in Monmouth and Ocean counties from April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017. The program will serve 400 patients with screening mammograms. The grant will also fund advanced diagnostic testing that includes 40 bilateral diagnostic mammograms, unilateral diagnostic mammograms for 70 women and breast ultrasounds for 70 women. It will also fund educational programming for 1,400 and transportation for 200.
Another community partner, the AMI Foundation, which serves Monmouth County, is educating 1,600 residents throughout its service area, and providing 500 Komen-funded screening mammograms and 58 advanced diagnostic tests.
In Burlington County—where Jones lives—the report found that the percentage of late-stage diagnoses is higher than the service area as a whole and the state. This presents as an increasing trend. Also in Burlington County, the percentage of African American women diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer is considerably higher than the number of Caucasian women diagnosed with the same diagnosis. The percentage of African American women diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer is also higher than the Affiliate service area’s percentage of African American women with that same diagnosis.
Thanks to funding from the Komen Central and South Jersey Race for the Cure, Virtua, one of the state’s largest health systems based in Marlton, is providing educational programming to 1,200 patients, screening mammograms to 450 and transportation to 25 with funding from a Komen grant to residents of Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties. Cherry Hill-based Clark Family Breast Cancer Services is offering educational programming to 650 and 150 referrals in the same area for screening mammograms. VietLEAD, a nonprofit serving the Vietnamese community, is providing programming to 2,000 and 300 referrals in Burlington, Camden and Atlantic counties.
“Educating other women about being aware of their own bodies and what’s happening within them is so important,” Jones said. “I’ve seen women lose their lives because they ignored signs until it was too late. That’s mind boggling.”
My sister’s death gave me more motivation
“After my sister passed, people asked me if I would still continue to fundraise. There was never a doubt in my mind that I would; it was more motivation. Since I couldn’t help her, that motivates me to help others like her,” said Jones, who is captain of the Be Courageous Race team that has raised over $42,000 for Komen during the past two years alone. “It’s cool to know you can put a name and a face to where the money goes. I know I’m making an impact for local people being “More Than Pink,” supporting and fundraising for Komen.”
“Seventy-five percent of every dollar raised is going right back into our local communities for educational programs and to help those who can’t afford care,” said Novosel, who lost her sister Amy two days before the Komen Race for the Cure in 2013. “No human should ever have to worry about how they are going to pay to fight for their life!”
Jones agrees that fundraising is key.
“Fundraising is an important factor because without the donations that Komen receives, women wouldn’t have access to as many services such as screenings, mammograms, diagnostic tests, ultrasounds and educational resources,” she said. “It’s a matter of saving lives until we find a cure.” This is a great quote!
Currently, scientists at Princeton University are conducting Komen-funded breast cancer research into the molecular, cellular and genetic early-identifiers and drivers of cancer metastasis. “Research is the key to why,” Novosel said.
Focusing on Hope
The survivor’s procession kicks off the Komen Race for the Cure, including the next Komen Race on Nov. 6. The procession will begin with the women and men who have been fighting the disease the longest and end with those most recently diagnosed. The procession will be the highlight of the day for both Jones and Novosel.
“I love that every person there is not alone. We’re all there because in some way this disease has affected us and we want to have an impact in the fight against it,” Novosel said. “Until you’re standing in that crowd, it’s hard to explain the emotions of that day. You see people standing there who are just starting treatment, they are in the middle of treatment or people who have been in remission for 25 years.”
“I can’t think of another moment when there is that much strength in one minute, in one small area. It amazes me,” added Jones, who has been captain of the Be Courageous team since 2012. “I can’t put it into words, but you see the smiles on their faces. Your hope is that there will be more at the beginning of the parade where the long-term survivors are and less at the end where the new diagnoses are eventually.”
Registration for the Komen Central and South Jersey Race for the Cure on Nov. 6 at Six Flags Great Adventure is open, register at www.komencsnj.org/race.