Fighting Breast Cancer was not the way 36-year-old Eileen Etemadfar, a Kaiser San Rafael Ophthalmology medical assistant and devoted mom of 4-year-old Michael, was planning to spend the last year. It all started after Michael’s third birthday, when Etemadfar felt pain in her breast and went into see her doctor.
“After the MRI results came in I read through the notes and felt my heart sink, 'highly suspicious for malignancy in the right breast.' I will never forget the feelings that came over me: shock, despair and most of all, fear,” Etemadfar said.
When she got the confirmation that it was in fact breast cancer, “I kept thinking cancer is something you get when you’ve lived your life, when it’s almost done, when you’ve already seen your son graduate from high school, then college, get married and have children of his own. Not me, I thought. Not now," she said.
Born and raised in Marin County, Etemadfar spent her first years in Novato attending Linwood School and grew up mostly in Corte Madera where she attended school at St. Patrick's, Neil Cummins, Hall Middle School and Redwood High School. Later she attended College of Marin for medical assisting taking classes at both the Novato and Kentfield campuses. Before she began her medical assisting career 10 years ago, she worked at banks including Sausalito’s West America and Bank of America and Bank of America Terra Linda.
For the last seven years, Etemadfar has worked for the Ophthalmology Department at Kaiser Permenente’s Third Street building in San Rafael. If you go there you’re likely to see a vivacious, ophthalmology medicial assistant of Peruvian and Iranian descent with a penchant for pinks, purples and glamorous eye make up -- and you’ll know that’s her. But Eileen has more reason that most to love the family-like environment of her office – the tight knit group went the extra mile and beyond to support her during her 10-month battle with breast cancer.
“From the moment I found out I had cancer my coworkers were there for me financially, emotionally, they were there at the hospital, they cried when I cried,” she said. “I went to stay with my mom in Vacaville and everyone came to visit, there wasn’t a dull moment when it came to phone calls and visiting everyone was there for me. I was off of work for 10 months and without their donation of hours there was no way I could have kept my benefits and get the treatments I needed and the time to recover."
Etemadfar was also accepted for a Kaiser program that helps people with cancer through the Christmas season. “It was amazing – they ask you for a couple of items that you or your child or your family would want and they went above and beyond -- there was no way I would have imagined that they would have sponsored me in such an amazing way. I didn’t have to buy or wrap one gift for anybody,” she said in wonder, “The tree – you could barely see the tree there were gifts all around stacked up in piles – there were like 70 something gifts for my son alone.”
Fast forward 8 months and Etemadfar is cancer-free after completing a grueling course of treatment this May. She’s celebrating by fielding a team for the Dipsea Hike for Zero Breast Cancer on Saturday, Sept. 22 at Old Mill Park in Mill Valley. “For me personally, I just wanted to give back to the breast cancer community because of what I’ve gone through in the past year. Since I’m physically doing better I want to give back by volunteering my time.”
Her local roots are part of what motivates her to get involved. “I want to support Zero Breast Cancer because it’s a an organization that’s in Marin, that’s looking for causes of breast cancer in Marin – and as someone who grew up in Marin and works in Marin I want to support my Marin townie women and Bay Area women," she said.
She is also inspired by Zero Breat Cancer’s focus on research on environmental causes of breast cancer and prevention. “I was told by my doctors that the type of cancer that I had was not a genetic form, and most likely environmental. So supporting Zero Breast Cancer to help them find environmental causes is huge to me,” she said.
She said it's "amazing" to have an organization devoted to educating people about what they can do to prevent cancer.
Etemadfar decided to participate in the Dipsea Hike for Zero Breast Cancer and to tell her story publicly because she wanted people to know “that breast cancer can hit anyone at any age – I’m a young women with breast cancer, and I probably had it for many years – you don’t need to be postmenopausal to get breast cancer and that Zero Breast Cancer is there as a resource for our community.”
Etemadfar is not just planning to take part in the 6 mile hike supporting Zero Breast Cancer’s research and education efforts, she has rallied her friends to form a team of eight people who have already raised over $300 for the Sept. 22 event. “Our team is called Lovely Lady Lumps and we have members from Fairfield, Rohnert Park, Foster city, San Francisco and Marin – I have my best friend, I have great coworkers, and these are the people who were closest to me when I was going through my journey with breast cancer and have continued to support me. I even have a man on the team who will wear one of our lovely lady lump tshirts – he’s not shy, he’s happy to support the team; he’s like a brother to me.”
Etemadfar sees her participation in the event as an extension of the fight she waged to become cancer-free, “It was extremely difficult -- without the support of my friends and family I would probably not have fought as hard. It is definitely a journey. It doesn’t end when you’re well again – you have to continue – by doing the Dipsea Hike for Zero Breast Cancer – it’s my way of continuing to fight back. This is just the beginning of me showing my support for the community”
More information about the Dipsea Hike for Zero Breast Cancer:
Zero Breast Cancer presents its 10th Anniversary Dipsea Hike on Saturday, Sept. 22, at 8 a.m. on Mount Tamalpais, starting and ending at Old Mill Park, 300 Throckmorton Avenue in Mill Valley. The Dipsea Hike is held in Memory of its co-founders Annie Fox and Jerry Leith. The event raises awareness about the importance of physical exercise to reducing breast cancer risk for adults and youth, while raising funds to support the research, education and community outreach programs of Zero Breast Cancer. Zero Breast Cancer is the only community-based organization dedicated to finding out why women in Marin and the Bay Area are at higher risk for breast cancer. The beautiful 6 mile loop trail is good for hiking or running. Prizes will be awarded and complimentary food, mini-massages & music will follow the hike. Adults $35; Students $20; Children under 11 are free. The event is sponsored by the Marin Independent Journal, Whole Foods Market, Preventive Medical Center of Marin, , The Sport Loop, Sports Basement, Speak to Me, YogaWorks, Peet's Coffee, Elan Fitness Center and KWMR.
Team registration is free with modest fundraising minimums. For more information or to register visit: dipsea.zerobreastcancer.org