By Deborah Brancic, Pasadena Now Correspondent
It was a pink sunrise Saturday morning in front of the Huntington Hospital, as over 200 volunteers gathered outside a 4,000-sq-ft exterior wall to paint. Hospital staff, patients, family members and members of the community donned pink T-shirts as they dipped brushes and rollers into trays filled with pink paint to coat the wall in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
“Obviously today is a special day because these [volunteers] are all cancer survivors,” said Huntington Hospital CEO Steve Ralph. “In one way or another they’ve touched Huntington [Hospital] and we’ve touched them, we’ve made a big difference in their lives.”
“We had our physicians and our RNs who know these patients tell them it was a chance to celebrate their own courage and to celebrate the caretakers who’ve taken care of them,” said Jane Haderlein, Huntington Hospital’s Senior Vice President.
The “Paint it Pink” event is a highly visible tribute to breast cancer survivors, meant to raise awareness of the illness. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is held every October, to educate the community on the importance of mammograms and early detection.
Several members of the community and staff were on hand to tell their stories of how breast cancer affected their lives. Jerry Aguilar, an RN at Huntington, said he lost his mother eleven years ago to the disease.
“It’s very hard for everyone in the family,” he said. “I’ve lost co-workers, best friends, everyone is affected by it.”
He spent six years helping cancer patients before coming to Huntington two years ago. Since then he said he does what he can to help others. “I know that they need it most during this scary part of their lives, and I feel good helping others in difficult times,” he said.
Aguilar said he volunteered to help paint the exterior wall of the hospital pink for personal reasons. “It’s an honor to my mother, and all the women that have gone before her and are still fighting it,” he said.
Lolita Lopez of NBC4 was also at the event. A breast cancer survivor herself, Lopez was still sore from her recent mastectomy as she pressed her palms on the hospital wall to leave a pink handprint.
“I had a double mastectomy on 9-11,” she said. Lopez’s tumor was small enough that she qualified for a lumpectomy, but she chose to do more.
“I wanted to be aggressive and be sure that I got everything out as much as possible. For me that was the most important thing, so that’s why I opted for the bi-lateral,” she said.
The Huntington staff was very accommodating, she said, especially her personal physician, Dr. Jeannie Chen. The doctors treated the whole person and not just the disease, according to Lopez. “I’ve been living with cancer but I’ve never really felt like a cancer patient, if you will,” she said.
The hardest part for Lopez was losing her hair, because according to her, that was her signature as a reporter. Even so, she chose to shave her head soon after beginning treatment.
“I didn’t want [my hair] to fall out in clumps,” she said. “After my first chemo, the day after, I shaved it all off. Then I went out and got my wig, I call her Dolly. So Dolly and I go everywhere, and this is how I go on air.”
Living as a breast cancer survivor is all about attitude, she said. “No one chooses to get cancer, but once you are part of that community, you really do feel very empowered if you take it the right way.”