Teaming up for cure

Breast cancer survivor Wendy Anderson (center, wearing jeans) coaches the Hanahan High School volleyball team and is an advocate for awareness among players, students and others in her community.

One of the most promising recruits in the battle against breast cancer, locally and nationally, won’t be running or walking in Saturday’s 19th annual Komen Lowcountry Race for the Cure.

Instead, College of Charleston freshman Amber Heyward, a national Komen Collegiate Ambassador, will be in the trenches at her first Race for the Cure event, manning the “I Am The Cure” booth and interacting with some of the 10,000-12,000 expected to attend.

The 17-year-old North Charleston resident is the first person in South Carolina to win the prestigious international-level Komen scholarship, which pays $10,000 a year for four years. The scholarship, which hundreds competed for, is awarded to children of parents who passed away from breast cancer.

Amber’s mother, Jackie Heyward, died from breast cancer on May 17, 2011, after a three-year battle.

“It was really hard,” says Amber, noting that her mother home-schooled her from the sixth through ninth grade. “We were very close. She was my best friend.”

Today, Amber is funneling that pain into something positive: raising awareness among college-age adults about breast cancer and vowing to make breast cancer awareness a large part of her life’s mission.

Needless to say, the Lowcountry affiliate of Komen for the Cure is overjoyed to have her as part of its team. Staffers already note that Amber is energetic and ambitious about starting her efforts.

“We are thrilled,” says Lucy Spears, the affiliate’s community outreach coordinator. “While it (her scholarship) stems from unfortunate circumstances, having her as a Komen ambassador is great for the Lowcountry.”

Spears adds that Amber will be able to reach two groups of people: college-age women and African-American women, who need to be more aware.

“African-American women not only often develop breast cancer at a younger age, but types of breast cancer they get tend to be more aggressive,” Spears said.

Meanwhile, another local woman, Hanahan High School volleyball coach Wendy Anderson, will mark her 10th consecutive Race for Cure on Saturday.

The first Race for the Cure she walked was in honor of a friend’s mother who died from breast cancer.

The following year, in the fall of 2004 when she was coaching at The Citadel, Anderson herself was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her diligence — doing self-breast exams and following through on diagnosis — led to catching the cancer early, though she admitted to being “shocked” to hear the news.

Today, the 45-year-old brings breast cancer awareness home to Hanahan High, holding a “Dig for the Cure” volleyball fundraiser for Komen and getting her team to volunteer as course marshals during the race, as well as being a speaker for the affiliate when they need her.

“This is a way to educate young people, especially athletes, that they are not invincible and that they need to be aware,” Anderson says.

With dedicated volunteers, both veterans and newbies, Komen Lowcountry Affiliate coordinator Lisa Jones says the word that a staggering one in eight women will have breast cancer during their lifetimes will get out.