Cancer survivors rally at Susan G. Komen Lowcountry chapter's 2014 celebration

Jenny Vitt (left) and Diane Shuler take part in a candle-lighting ceremony Sunday for breast cancer survivors during the Susan G. Komen Foundation 2014 Survivor celebration at the Charleston Marriott.

When Darcel Gorham sat down to think about how to make a handbag that best showed her fight against breast cancer one image came to mind - a boxing glove.

Now a cancer survivor for two years, Gorham was among 500 breast cancer survivors and their supporters who attended the Susan G. Komen Lowcountry chapter's 2014 Survivor Celebration on Sunday at the Charleston Marriott.

"I decided I'm going to fight it and I'm going to knock it out," Gorham told the crowd of why a boxing glove symbolized her fight. Gorham's inspiring bag won her a pink Rowallan designer purse as part of the event's "It's in the Bag!" contest.

Gorham's fight was an intensely personal one. That's because her family has been dealing with breast cancer for five years straight. Gorham's diagnosis came a year to the day after her sister died from the disease.

"It's been a trying time for me," she said in an interview. "When you loose someone to cancer you never get over the grief."

But despite her loss, Gorham decided to fight her cancer for herself, her family and especially her daughter.

"I decided I'm going to fight this and end it, end the cycle in my family," she said.

The Susan G. Komen Lowcountry chapter has raised more than $6 million in the last 20 years to help fund local non-profit organizations in their efforts to assist breast cancer patients who don't have access to cancer screenings or support services. About $2 million raised by the group has gone to fund national research efforts.

Dr. Stephen P. Ethier, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina who spoke at the event, said that research in recent years has lead to new therapies to treat the disease and new methods to detect it.

"There are types of breast cancer today we feel we can cure pretty effectively," he said.

The real challenge now is to focus on finding effective treatments for more difficult types of breast cancer, Ethier said.

Dr. Sarah Giordano, a breast medical oncologist with the MUSC Hollings Cancer Center, said it is key to treat the whole patient and not just the cancer. The challenge is helping women deal with the side effects of the chemotherapy and radiation and hormone treatments after they are cancer free.

"Our goal is not just to beat the cancer but to help women who beat the cancer have a long, normal, healthy life after cancer," she said.

The celebration was capped off with a candle lighting ceremony to celebrate those who have beat the disease and remember those who have not. The hope is for survivors to leave feeling inspired.

"I think it's helpful for newly diagnosed survivors to see survivors who are ten, fifteen or twenty years out," said Lucy Spears, mission programs manager for Susan G. Komen Lowcountry. "It gives them hope."

That's exactly what the event does, said Gorham.

"It means anything's possible," she said.

Reach Amanda Kerr at 937-5546 or at