When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2012, Lorraine Hutchinson was in shock. She did not have a family history of breast cancer, so she did not believe it was a risk, Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson fought, she survived, and she came out even better in the end. Now, Hutchinson is the 2014 Susan G. Komen San Diego Honorary Breast Cancer Survivor. In this new role, Hutchinson, who is also Deputy Chief of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, will empower and educate San Diegans and African Americans about the importance of early detection.
“I want to encourage, inspire and motivate. Encourage women to be aware of their bodies and know what is normal for them,” said Hutchinson. “For all those reasons we ladies put off getting a mammogram, not one of them is worth dying for. I want to inspire women who hear my story and are fighting breast cancer to know that there is hope and to fight on. And lastly to motivate everyone no matter what their situation is to strive to make each day count by being the best they can be mentally, physically, and emotionally. Cancer woke me up to my health, and I feel like I have been given a second chance.”
Hutchinson credits her mammogram, her family, her “firehouse family”, the drugs and treatments and her strong will to be healthy for her survival.
“I was shocked to learn that most people who get breast cancer actually don’t have a family history,” Hutchinson said. “Also, as an African American woman, I was stunned to learn that breast cancer is the most common cancer among African American women and they also tend to have lower survival rates than women from other racial and ethnic groups in the United States.”
While the overall breast cancer incidence rate for African American women is about 10 percent lower than for white women, the mortality rate is 37 percent higher. Studies have also found that African Americans often have aggressive tumors with a poorer prognosis.
“Lorraine’s inspirational leadership will help Komen San Diego continue to fund the County’s largest program of free breast cancer treatments, services, and support,” said Laura Farmer Sherman, executive director of Susan G. Komen San Diego. “Lorraine showed sheer determination to win her battle against breast cancer—the same approach she takes every day saving others’ lives as a firefighter.”
In November 2012, four months after being diagnosed with diabetes and struggling to lose 35 pounds, Hutchinson was stunned to receive a diagnosis of Stage IB breast cancer. After having an initial mammogram, Hutshinson took her time going back in for a follow up because she was sure she did not have breast cancer. Hutchinson said that putting off the follow up mammogram was a mistake. Six weeks after diagnosis, Hutchinson underwent a mastectomy of her left breast followed by four treatments of chemotherapy.
The drugs used for Hutchinson’s chemotherapy and current hormonal treatment are actually funded by Komen research grants. Since it began in 1995, Komen San Diego has raised more than $12.5 million to fund local non-profits who provide everything from free diagnostic mammograms and surgeries to meal delivery, child care and temporary financial aid. Next to the U.S. government, Susan G. Komen is the largest funder of breast cancer research in the world.
Beginning on April 1, 2014, the Seven California Affiliates of Susan G. Komen will develop a best practice model that addresses breast cancer disparities at both the system and individual levels, specifically targeting African American women who are rarely or never screened, low-income, uninsured or recipients of Medi-Cal. Komen has received a two year $390,000 “Challenge” grant from Anthem Blue Cross Foundation, L.L.C., to help launch this initiative in order to serve diverse, disadvantaged communities with high mortality rates. For more information, please visit www.komensandiego.org.