Susan Rafte doesn’t need October to remind her about breast cancer. As the 2012 Breast Cancer Awareness Month began, she was looking back at 18 years of surviving the disease.
“It’s been a very transforming journey,” she said. “It’s not something you’re thinking about at the age of 30 with a brand new baby. When something like this kind of blindsides you, it’s devastating. But over the years, and even from the get-go, we always tried to find the good that was happening around us.”
In the years since she first was diagnosed and went throughafter surgery home care, Rafte helped found the Pink Ribbons Project which she continues to help run out of Houston today.
“It’s a totally different focus in my life than I ever would have thought,” she said.
The Pink Ribbons Project began as a dance benefit concert in New York City. The performance was organized by Rafte’s sister and three other dancers and raised $10,000. Their tagline was: “Dancers in motion against breast cancer.” During the first performance in New York, Rafte’s back started to hurt. Her cancer was spreading and getting worse. But her fate turned and fortune was in her favor.
“It was just totally by luck,” she said. “It’s almost like we walked around with our dinner plates out and things just dropped from the sky.”
As it would happen, the money raised by the Pink Ribbons Project ended up going to an organization that pushed the FDA to approve new drug treatments. Rafte would take one of those drugs, Taxotere, the next year to help her receive a stem-cell transplant that saved her life.
“Did I know any of that? No,” Rafte said. “Even after it happened, we still hadn’t connected to the dots. It wasn’t until much later that we realized it’s pretty incredible what can happen when a small amount of money lands in the right hands.”
Rafte was always part of the Pink Ribbons Project, supporting her sister’s efforts, but became more involved when it moved from New York to where she lived in Houston.
“I had my big toe in the water at the beginning and by the time it got to Houston I was submerged,” she said.
The Pink Ribbons Project continues to raise funds – always through art. That could be a dance performance at a church or a school, painting “pink plates,” collaborations with restaurants for “pink platters,” a musical based around breast cancer, or even a T-shirt contest. While she participates in the awareness campaign in October, Rafte doesn’t feel like it should be limited to one time of the year.
“There are no boundaries; there are no perimeters to breast cancer. There’s also no timing,” she said.
Rafte says it’s just as important to remember self-breast exams in February as in October. She wants women to create a community to remind each other to stay healthy.
“I think the biggest reminder is – stay in touch with your body, stay in touch with being healthy. If something concerns you, seek out professional help. Get confirmation. It’s a great day when they tell you, this isn’t anything to worry about. Early detection is a better thing than what I had,” she said.
Eighteen years after her diagnosis, Rafte says the journey helped her grow as a person.
“It’s great to be looking in the rearview mirror,” she said. “There were definitely times that were touch and go, but it’s nice to be on the other side and looking back and seeing how those things changed me.”
To learn more about the Pink Ribbons Project, visit www.pinkribbons.org.