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Start the Presses: Helping survivors stay in the pink

September 07, 2013|By Dan Evans, dan.evans@latimes.com
  • Lenore Gavia-Valls, right, with friends at a recent Avon Breast Cancer Walk
Lenore Gavia-Valls, right, with friends at a recent Avon… (Courtesy of Lenore…)

Leonor Gaviña-Valls remembers with photographic clarity the August day she was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.

"I was completely shocked," the Glendale resident said of that day 15 years ago. "I didn't feel anything, didn't know anything was wrong. But my main objective was to get well again, to survive."

Cancer stages are a bit like the DEFCON system, but in reverse. The higher the stage number, the worse it is; there is no stage 5. If fate hands you a cancer diagnosis, you want stage 1.

Starting in 1998, Gaviña-Valls, 61, endured six months of chemotherapy, 36 rounds of radiation, and took various cancer-fighting drugs for eight years. She is free of the disease now, and prays to stay that way.

This weekend, she will be taking part in her fifth Avon Breast Cancer walk, walking 39.3 miles from Santa Barbara to Carpinteria over two days. She said she continues to participate in the fundraiser because she doesn't want her 23-year-old daughter, any of her nieces — or anyone, really — to face the grim news she once did.

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"A cure is needed," she said. "I don't want this generation to go through what I had to go through."

Gaviña-Valls is the co-owner of Gaviña & Sons, which produces, among other things, Don Francisco's Coffee. Pictures from previous walks show the company is also deeply involved.

Over the years, she said she has run into many, many people facing their own cancers. Her advice is simple: "Don't pay attention to anyone except your doctor, and have a positive attitude about the outcome."

"It was huge part of my survival, that positive attitude," Gaviña-Valls said.

Of course, the outcomes are not always positive. I have a curious kinship with Gaviña-Valls, a woman I had not ever met or spoken to until this Friday.

My mother, Kathy Evans, lost her battle with breast cancer in June 1998, two weeks after I graduated from college. Watching me accepting my diploma on the stage of the Greek Theatre in Berkeley was apparently one of the last things on this earth she wanted to see. Her original diagnosis was also stage 2.

That realization — that she waited for me to graduate and come home before dying — is both an honor and an obligation. I suspect she's proud of me, but the phones in heaven don't seem to work as well as I would like, so I have to take it on faith.

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