The Suzy Fund: Local Breast Cancer Survivor inspires funds and awareness

Savannah Vasquez
svasquez@thedestinlog.com
Suzy Nicholson-Hunt is the events director at The Destin Area Chamber of Commerce. Her battle against breast cancer eight years ago inspired The Suzy Fund, a resource for local women to obtain free mammograms and screenings.

Breast cancer survivor Suzy Nicholson-Hunt has a message for all women living in Okaloosa and Walton Counties; “Early detection saves lives… It saved mine.”

Suzy said that this phrase has been her mantra ever since the day she was diagnosed with breast cancer eight years ago. At the time she was diagnosed, Suzy was a local radio personality and said she used to sign off with that exact phrase in hopes of reaching local women with a message that could save their lives.

“I was an on-air personality for Mix 103 and I thought, ‘Wow, I have a platform so I might as well use that platform,’” she said. “I was 42 and I had never had a mammogram. I noticed a dimple on my breast, but I never knew breast cancer ran in my family; it’s just not something that was talked about.”

During her eight months of treatment however, Suzy did more than just talk the talk; with the help of friends, co-workers and the Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast, she launched The Suzy Fund which now offers free mammograms and diagnostic screenings for underserved women of Okaloosa and Walton counties.

“It’s expensive to go through treatment,” Suzy said of the reason she started the fund. “I wanted to do something where the money stayed local. I’d lived here for 40 years and I wanted to help the local community.”

The Suzy Fund still exists today, and now has outgrown the local survivor’s personal influence as word spreads about the program.

“There is so much money in it now that it overflows and now helps with other women’s needs,” Suzy said. “It’s the easiest thing in the area to use and you don’t need to have insurance.”

As for Suzy, she said she doesn’t mind that her own survival story has faded, as she would rather focus on others and their support than on herself.

“I don’t feel special or that I have any big strong story to tell,” Suzy said of her past battle with breast cancer. “My focus is just to make sure people know about The Suzy Fund, and to be a support system for others going through the same thing. It’s not about me any more, I just want them to know that A; You will get through it, and B; There is help available for you.”

Suzy said that often she hears of events sponsoring The Suzy Fund on social media, but rarely interacts with actual recipients. Last year however, she had an emotional encounter with a young woman in the most unexpected way.

“Last summer I was at the Paddle at the Porch fund raiser and one of the participants came up to me all teary-eyed and said, ‘Are you Suzy…as in The Suzy Fund? You could have saved my life!’” Suzy said. “That was pretty emotional for me, even if it was just that one person, it would have made a difference. Now life goes on for this cancer survivor, and where I am now; I hope that’s an inspiration.”

Courtesy of www.breastcancer.org.

About 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 12 percent) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.

In 2015, an estimated 231,840 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 60,290 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer.

About 2,350 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in men in 2015. A man’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000.

Breast cancer incidence rates in the U.S. began decreasing in the year 2000, after increasing for the previous two decades. They dropped by 7 percent from 2002 to 2003 alone. One theory is that this decrease was partially due to the reduced use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) by women after the results of a large study called the Women’s Health Initiative were published in 2002. These results suggested a connection between HRT and increased breast cancer risk.

About 40,290 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2015 from breast cancer, though death rates have been decreasing since 1989. Women under 50 have experienced larger decreases. These decreases are thought to be the result of treatment advances, earlier detection through screening, and increased awareness.

For women in the U.S., breast cancer death rates are higher than those for any other cancer, besides lung cancer.

Besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women. In 2015, it's estimated that just under 30 percent of newly diagnosed cancers in women will be breast cancers.

White women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than African-American women. However, in women under 45, breast cancer is more common in African-American women than white women. Overall, African-American women are more likely to die of breast cancer. The risk of developing and dying from breast cancer is lower in Asian, Hispanic, and Native-American women.

In 2015, there are more than 2.8 million women with a history of breast cancer in the U.S. This includes women currently being treated and women who have finished treatment.

A woman’s risk of breast cancer approximately doubles if she has a first-degree relative (mother, sister, daughter) who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Less than 15 percent of women who get breast cancer have a family member diagnosed with it.

About 5-10 percent of breast cancers can be linked to gene mutations (abnormal changes) inherited from one’s mother or father. Mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are the most common. On average, women with a BRCA1 mutation have a 55-65 percent lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. For women with a BRCA2 mutation, the risk is 45 percent. Breast cancer that is positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations tends to develop more often in younger women. An increased ovarian cancer risk is also associated with these genetic mutations. In men, BRCA2 mutations are associated with a lifetime breast cancer risk of about 6.8 percent; BRCA1 mutations are a less frequent cause of breast cancer in men.

About 85 percent of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of breast cancer. These occur due to genetic mutations that happen as a result of the aging process and life in general, rather than inherited mutations.

The most significant risk factors for breast cancer are gender (being a woman) and age (growing older).

Breast Cancer Statistics