When Cari Clipperton found a lump in her breast, she didn't immediately think "cancer."
Why would she? The disease didn't run in her family, and she was only 35 years old.
It was probably a cyst, she reasoned, so decided not to worry. She'd have it checked out later.
When she did - on Feb. 24, the day after her 36th birthday - Clipperton was diagnosed with a form of breast cancer that demanded an aggressive fight: six cycles of chemotherapy over 18 weeks and a double mastectomy, which Clipperton underwent July 29. She's currently undergoing surgical breast reconstruction.
A month after the diagnosis, Clipperton's father told her that her grandmother discovered she had breast cancer at age 80.
"Finding out your family history is very, very important," said Clipperton, a single mother of two adult children who lives in Peyton. "So that's also something that I want to spread the word about. I'm doing this for my daughter, my best friend, my sister."
On Sunday morning, Clipperton will join thousands of other walkers and runners for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure at Garden of the Gods. The 5K, the largest of its kind in the world, has raised money for and awareness of breast cancer since its founding in 1983. Today, more than 1.6 million people participate in more than 140 races on four continents.
In addition to raising money and awareness, the event celebrates the survivor community - a support network that provides vital emotional aid and advice to newly diagnosed cancer patients when they need it most.
"After a diagnosis, you're overwhelmed. You don't know what this is. I didn't know what to ask," said Courtney Chapin, who was partnered with a Susan G. Komen volunteer, a cancer survivor, after her diagnosis last year. "This is a person who spoke cancer fluently. I'd always call her before an appointment and say 'What do I need to ask?'"
Chapin was 30 when she realized that the small, hard lump she'd thought was a benign breast cyst had begun to grow and change shape. She was working full-time but had canceled her health insurance the previous year, reasoning that she was healthy, young and could save money. An exam at the nonprofit Peak Vista Community Health Center, which serves the low-income, uninsured and underinsured, left her feeling optimistic. The doc there didn't think her lump was anything serious but referred her to a breast specialist.
Chapin was able to get an appointment that same week with Dr. Laura Pomerenke, board president for Susan G. Komen of Southeastern Colorado. The doctor prepared Chapin for bad news, later confirmed with a biopsy. Chapin had inflammatory breast cancer, a particularly aggressive form of the disease that often affects women at younger ages. Scans showed the cancer had metastasized to her liver, lungs and bones.
The news rocked Chapin, but "Dr. Pomerenke connected me with other survivors that same day," said Chapin, who underwent six rounds of chemotherapy, a mastectomy and then 32 rounds of radiation in the eight months after her diagnosis. "I wouldn't have made it through without that support, and I will be so grateful for that for the rest of my life."
The Susan G. Komen organization also referred Chapin to Sense of Security, which connects breast cancer patients with financial aid agencies. The group helped her make rent during her recovery.
"When everything was up in the air and I wasn't able to work enough to support myself, that assistance provided a much-needed comfort. I was able to grieve during treatment and can now say that cancer made my life better," Chapin said. "This experience reaffirmed my belief system and trust in God."
Chemotherapy resolved the cancer in Chapin's lungs and liver, but the disease still lingers in her bones. She gets regular scans and a monthly shot helps keep her bones strong.
On Sunday, she will walk in the race as a member of the Inflammatory Breast Cancer and Friends Team.
"I surrounded myself with love and developed a new appreciation for life," Chapin said. "Pink is my new favorite color and positivity is my new outlook."
Contact Earls at 636-0364