By Amy Wenk
Sandy Springs resident Randi Passoff knows about breast cancer.
She knows 8 to 9 percent of women will develop breast cancer. This year in Georgia, Passoff said, 6,130 women will be diagnosed and 1,100 will die of the disease.
Passoff knows about living with breast cancer.
She knows because she has it.
Passoff got the diagnosis in 1995. She recovered with treatment, but more than six years ago, she was diagnosed again with stage four breast cancer, which has no cure.
“You really do wake up and you smell the roses,” said the mother of three and grandmother of three about life after the diagnosis. “You notice the blue skies, and you notice the green grass, and even when it’s rainy and chilly, how beautiful it is. You really take that in every single day. There’s not a day I don’t see beauty out there because of what I have gone through.”
Passoff lives today only because new medical treatments keep coming out. She must switch medicines often because they quit working for her body. “I’ve just been lucky enough to feel good and survive this long. It is a deadly disease, and people need early, early, early recognition.”
That is why, for 15 years, Passoff has devoted herself to raising awareness and money for breast cancer services and research.
In 2002, she founded the nonprofit organization It’s The Journey Inc., and its main fundraiser, The Atlanta 2-Day Walk for Breast Cancer. In its first six years, the walk raised $6.6 million and has awarded 127 grants to breast cancer organizations in Atlanta, according to the organization’s Website.
Now Passoff is organizing a new event in Sandy Springs that will benefit Breast Friends Inc., a nonprofit organization in Sandy Springs founded by Passoff’s friend and two-time breast cancer survivor Lyn Wasserman.
“She was the first person I met when I got breast cancer in ’95,” said Passoff, whom the city of Sandy Springs in 2008 honored with the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award. “I bumped into Lyn at the Perimeter Mall. She was just this gutsy kind of woman that just had nothing to hold her back.”
The inaugural “You’ve Been Pinked” Family Event and Walk will take place Aug. 28 at the Concourse office park at the corner of Hammond Drive and Peachtree-Dunwoody Road in Sandy Springs.
The event will feature games and activities for families, as well as a 6- to 12-mile walk for people who pledge to raise $300 or more.
Register for the event online or at two upcoming events: On June 19, people can train for the walk at Lefont Theater on Sandy Springs Circle. An open house will be held at Breast Friends, 180 Allen Road, Suite 305-North, on June 30.
Money raised at the event in August will help revive Breast Friends. The organization is looking to become an online resource; it was started in 1998 to provide one-on-one phone support for women with breast cancer.
“A lot of people get private when it comes to these things,” said Lyn’s brother, Earl Wasserman, a Sandy Springs resident and businessman who has kept Breast Friends going amid challenges since his sister’s death in 2004.
“They can call Breast Friends and get a breast cancer survivor who has gone through this process and who can answer many of the questions and address many of the fears. … We don’t recommend physicians. We don’t recommend procedures. We are just a voice on the other end of the line — a voice of experience.”
Lyn got the idea for Breast Friends when her oncologist introduced her to a woman named Sarah after Lyn was diagnosed with breast cancer. Sarah had just completed treatment for breast cancer and she sat by Lyn’s side when she started chemotherapy.
Lyn wanted to return the favor and counsel someone beginning cancer treatment.
But when Lyn contacted cancer organizations, she was told that one-on-one support was not offered.
Wasserman helped Lyn build Breast Friends and became board president in 2000.
“She had unbelievable passion for the business,” he said. “Lyn talked many people out of suicide.”
But Lyn got sick again. She was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer, and after fighting for about a year, died in June 2004.
“During that year, we talked a lot about the organization,” Wasserman said. “She was scared to death that all of her hard work would be for naught. I promised her, ‘That will not happen. I will do everything I can to keep the organization running, keep it strong …’”
But it’s not been an easy road.
Breast Friends, Wasserman said, was devastated by losing “such a prominent face and voice in the breast cancer community.” It has been difficult to keep the doors open, he said. A dwindling economy has added to the struggles.
Breast Friends offered hospital transportation when the need for phone support declined, but since has stopped that service.
Wasserman now wants to give Breast Friends a “virtual remodeling.”
Breast Friends is working to finish a website later this summer with statewide information about breast cancer, including where to find support groups, wigs and prostheses, low-cost services like mammograms and biopsies, as well as government assistance and financial aid.
“Breast Friends now will be reaching all over Georgia,” Passoff said. “To me, it is really an honor — really an honor — to be working with Breast Friends, because it is like full circle for me. [Lyn] was the first person who approached me when I had cancer. It was so kind and so caring.”
You’ve Been Pinked Family Event and WalkWhat: An event with games for families to benefit the Sandy Springs nonprofit organization Breast Friends. There will be an optional 6- to 12-mile walk with a $300 fundraising minimum. Top fundraisers will win prizes. When: Aug. 28Where: Concourse office park in Sandy SpringsRegistration: To register, visit www.firstgiving.com/breastfriends.Early-bird registration ($35 for a family of four) is until June 30. From July 1 to Aug. 28, registration is $50. Information: Contact Randi Passoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.