Imagine you’re the mother of young children hearing the news that your mammogram shows an abnormality. Because of pre-existing health conditions, you have no insurance to pay for the follow-up tests that could give you a sigh of relief or confirm your worst fears. The cost of biopsies, MRIs and ultrasounds is so far beyond your reach that you don’t know how you will ever pay for the tests that could save your life.
This was the distressing scenario that Wellington resident Lisa Fitter faced in 2013 when she was 47 years old. “When you don’t have insurance, you don’t realize how far out of reach healthcare is,” Fitter said.
Fitter’s situation is a common one for Susan G. Komen Florida. Every week, calls come into the organization from women — and sometimes men — desperately needing financial assistance to pay for the screenings, testing and treatment that could save their lives. Answering their urgent pleas for help is why Komen Florida calls itself the “first responders to breast cancer.”
In Fitter’s case, it was the Bethesda Women’s Health Center that let her know Komen offered financial support for the tests she needed. Fitter’s follow-up was paid for by Komen, and on Christmas Eve 2013, she received her official breast cancer diagnosis.
While it was a shock, Fitter no longer had to live with the unknown. She could now move forward and focus on treatment. “If there were no Komen, I honestly don’t know what we would have done,” she said. “You hate to think that you would ever be in that situation.”
Fitter’s next challenge was figuring out how to tell her twins, 10-year-olds Talia and Joshua. They had just completed a project at school about diseases people can die from. One of them was cancer.
Fitter opted to be very open with her children. She wanted to be direct and help them understand as much as they could.
“You can’t hide it,” she said. “Suddenly, you have a house full of people bringing you meals, you’re lying in bed all day, you’re going to the hospital. Children will sense something is going on. You can’t overload them with information, but they have to know that mommy is sick right now. You can figure out how much they can cope with.”
Fitter was fortunate. Her breast cancer was early stage and contained. She had a bi-lateral mastectomy with no need for chemotherapy. The timing of her surgery coincided with the Affordable Care Act, guaranteeing that she could receive insurance coverage even though she had a pre-existing condition. Even so, Fitter knew that if she had no insurance, “Komen would have been there for me.”
The friends Fitter has made in the Wellington community were also there for her. When she moved to Wellington in 2005, she found it to be a welcoming, family-centered community, perfect for her own young family — a strong benefit she shares with those looking to move into the area as a Realtor with the K Company.
The circle of friends she made when her children were in preschool came together to rally around her during her breast cancer journey. They were also there for her last year when she celebrated her fourth cancer-free anniversary on Feb. 10, 2018, gathering together in her kitchen, where her daughter Talia recited a poem she had written. Her words brought tears to everyone in the room.
“That one phrase, ‘find the cure’ that didn’t mean anything to me before, suddenly became my whole world,” Talia wrote. “No, that one phrase, ‘find the cure,’ was all I thought about for the next few years… Now, it’s four years later… She is a fighter, she is my hero, she is who I aspire to be, and this whole time, she never gave up. See, now this ‘phrase’ means every little bit to me. It means bravery, and I never knew what bravery was until I saw it in my mom.”
Writing was Talia’s way to cope with her mother’s illness. Now she has taken the phrase “find the cure” one step further by joining the Komen South Florida Race for the Cure Junior Committee. In her mother’s honor, she has formed a race team at her school, Palm Beach Central High School, called “Lisa’s Warriors.”
Joining the Race for the Cure is something mother and daughter will do together on Jan. 26 in downtown West Palm Beach, with son Joshua and husband Rich at their side. Fitter is on the Survivor Committee, helping to recognize the hundreds of men and women who have fought her same battle. All will gather on the Meyer Amphitheatre stage at the conclusion of the race for the inspiring and emotional Survivor Recognition Ceremony.
This will be Fitter’s first race experience, the first time she has felt comfortable as a survivor coming forward in the larger community. She is grateful to help volunteer for the organization that saved her life. “I want to be able pay it forward,” Fitter said.
She and more than 10,000 supporters who come out for the Race for the Cure will help raise funds to take care of others like Fitter in the local community. Komen dedicates 75 percent of money raised to provide breast health education and breast cancer screenings and treatment in Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties. Twenty-five percent is invested in breakthrough research benefiting breast cancer patients around the world.
“We’re able to be the first responders to breast cancer for thousands of women and men like Lisa because of the funds we raise through the Race for the Cure,” said Kate Watt, executive director of Susan G. Komen Florida. “The race is symbolic of our promise to never let anyone walk alone on her breast cancer journey.”
Fitter’s presence at the race will be a symbol, too, that with early detection and treatment, breast cancer is a battle that can be won. Just two weeks after the race, on Feb. 10, Fitter will mark her five-year cancer-free anniversary. In her daughter’s words, “she is a fighter… she never gave up.” Now she’s ready to be an inspiration to others.
Join or donate to Fitter’s team for the Race for the Cure, Lisa’s Warriors, at www.info-komen.org/goto/lisaswarriors, or create your own team by registering at www.komenflorida.org/race.
Also, be sure to take Lisa Fitter’s advice: get a mammogram every year to ensure early detection; if your mammogram is abnormal, have follow-up tests immediately; and if you have children and are diagnosed with breast cancer, be as open and honest as possible.
For more information, contact Susan G. Komen Florida at (561) 514-3020 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or find them on the web at www.komenflorida.org.