Ask around, and someone in your immediate environment is likely to know someone with breast cancer. And so it was for Diane Parker, founder of Journey of Hope, a motorcycle ride across the country that raises awareness of the disease, which affects one in every 27 South African women.
In 1996 her cousin died of breast cancer after being diagnosed at a very advanced stage of the disease. At the time Parker was involved with the Ladies of Harley USA, a club for women Harley-Davidson motorcycle enthusiasts, which had decided to spread awareness about breast cancer.
“I couldn’t believe it when I too was faced with this diagnosis later but because of my awareness I was able to pick up my breast cancer at an early stage,” she says.
In 2005 Diane, who worked in the tourism and hospitality industries selling South Africa to the international markets, was selected to represent South Africa in a Harley ride in the USA called Changing Gears, and met breast cancer awareness advocate Olade Olayinka.
“I wanted to bring something similar to South Africa but also bring awareness, education and support to woman here.”
With Olayinka’s assistance Diane set about organising the first “Biking for Breast Health – A Journey of Hope” which took place in October 2006 and was such a resounding success that the American Chamber of Commerce in South Africa awarded Diane the "Star of the Community" award in 2007.
n 2008 the journey covered even more communities. This year the event is sponsored by Clicks Holdings, and again focuses on the lives of 15 breast cancer survivors, travelling across the country from Cape Town to Johannesburg on Harley-Davidsons® , spreading a message of positivity through appearances, talks and awareness workshops at shopping centres, schools, taxi ranks and communities along the route.
In South Africa, the incidence of breast cancer has overtaken that of cervical cancer and it cuts across race and class barriers. However, with early detection and appropriate treatment, the survival rate is 95% says Diane, who was diagnosed in November 2004.
"The illness and uncertainty in my life certainly took its toll on me, but somehow I found the strength to be positive and get through it all. After going for regular mammograms it had somehow gone undetected. I went for a second opinion, and a biopsy confirmed my worst fears."
Diane had HER2-positive breast cancer. (Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor 2)
She says it essential to clearly understand one’s diagnosis. "This is because HER2-positive tumours tend to grow and spread more quickly than tumors that are not HER2-positive and the treatment is different. I had to go onto a targeted IV drug called Herceptin. Herceptin is different to chemotherapy in that it is a biological drug and has fewer side effects than chemo. I was still on treatment when I participated in Changing Gears in the States and was able to even go to gym regularly while on my 12 months of Herceptin treatment"
On this year’s ride, Diane will celebrate her fifth year of surviving breast cancer.
"Knowing that there are now many different treatments available, also gives one confidence and hope that you can overcome this dreaded disease and become more enriched because of it," she says.
(Press release, Matrix Advertising, October 2009)