Sitting in the living room of her south Arlington home, one can hear Judy Macon’s infectious laugh loud and clear from the kitchen.
She finishes what she’s doing and sits down on the couch. As her dog trots through, she laughs heartily again. She has a lot to be happy about.
More than two decades ago, Macon was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 31. She didn’t think she would live to be 40. "Even though I got excellent treatment, it’s such a scary disease," she said.
HER FIGHT with breast cancer helped her to put everyday events into perspective. "You realize how much is not as important as you thought it was. What difference does it make if you break a nail, and what difference does it make if you get stuck in traffic," she said. "I enjoy the little things so much more. A good laugh, a good story, can make me perfectly happy."
This Saturday, an estimated 50,000 men and women will race in the annual Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation National Race for the Cure. The goal is to raise money for breast cancer research and community outreach programs. The event will take place on the National Mall, and is the largest 5K race in the world.
Macon has been involved with the race for about 15 years and recently the Komen Foundation honored her as their "Survivor of the Year."
"This is someone who is recognized for being a good deed-doer for promoting awareness, and for being a spokesperson for the Komen Foundation. They help do the myriad of jobs necessary to get the word out and get the race organized," she said of the award.
Macon, who works at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, is a nurse and a health educator. Breast cancer affects her both personally and professionally.
Her job allows her to impact people in a positive way by helping them detect the disease, undergo early treatment and comforting them in a time of pain.
Jerry Laderberg, a friend of six years, and Macon’s daughter Daliah agreed that she has been able to remain positive and upbeat throughout her battle with breast cancer.
"She has this philosophy that because she is a survivor, everyday is a gift. She has the ability to put things into proper perspective very quickly," Laderberg said.
Daliah does not remember much about her mom’s cancer. She was young, and did not live with her all the time. Some 23 years after the diagnosis, she said, "I think her attitude remains the same, so I would say that she is always really positive."
She knows her mom has good advice and loves to share it with people. "Because breast cancer is treatable I think she feels empowered to do something," she said.
MACON SAID informing women about early detection is one of her main priorities because even many well-educated women do not do self-examinations or get mammograms. "They may know it, but they may not do it," she said.
Macon has also helped women who don’t have access to mammograms and breast cancer treatment. With money from the Komen Foundation and other grants, she helped create the Low Income Mammography Program (LIMP). The program makes it very easy on women who don’t have health insurance to get screening and diagnostic mammograms and treatment.
She believes, though, that more still needs to be done to help low-income patients. "There are disparities in health care everywhere. Whether it’s having access to health care or health care professionals guiding you through the system, we just need to level the playing field," she said.
Outside of better education and improving care for low-income patients Macon has other hopes for the fight against breast cancer, including less harmful treatment and better screening methods. For years now, she has teamed up with the Komen Foundation to help in this fight.
On race day, the breast cancer survivors, which numbered more than 3,000 last year, will be clad in pink shirts. They will walk through a huge arch of pink and white balloons, and Macon will say a few words at the ceremony that will honor them and pay tribute to those who have died from the disease.
"IT’S QUITE moving to see all those survivors in their pink shirts giving hope to other women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer or will be diagnosed," Macon said.
Last year, more than $3.3 million was raised. Some of the money stays in the Washington Metropolitan area and the rest goes to the National Komen office in Dallas, Texas.
"I’m a long-term survivor and I have been disease-free for 23 years," said Macon. "But I’m not cured because it could come back." She admitted it was hard to confront this fact.
"Breast cancer’s not fair. It’s just not fair. And it’s sad to see people who get very sick and suffer through a devastating disease." But she has been able to find joy in her life.
"I know sometimes diseases can make people bitter. It sounds so naïve to say I truly enjoy life. That is probably the gift of cancer, which is the enjoyment of life."