Imagine you’re the mom 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 breast cancer tests that could give you a sigh of relief or confirm your worst fear. 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 diagnostic testing that could save your life.
This was the distressing scenario Wellington resident Lisa Fitter faced in 2013 when she was 47 years old.
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.”
Fitter’s follow-up was paid for by Komen, and on Christmas Eve 2013 she received her official diagnosis. She had breast cancer. 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. You hate to think that you would ever be in that situation,” she said.
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 if she had no insurance, “Komen would have been there for me.”
The circle of Wellington friends Fitter made when her children were in preschool came together to rally around her during her entire breast cancer journey. They were there for her last year when she celebrated her fourth cancer-free anniversary on Feb. 10, gathering together in her kitchen, where her daughter Talia recited a poem she had written for Fitter.
“That one phrase, ‘find the cure’ that didn’t mean anything to me before, suddenly became my whole world,” she wrote. “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.”
Talia 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. Fitter is on the Survivor Committee, helping to recognize the hundreds of men and women who have fought her same battle, who will come together for the event on Saturday, Jan. 26 in downtown West Palm Beach.
She and more than 10,000 supporters 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 screening and treatment in Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties. The rest 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.”