Karen Nagy

October is the month of leaves changing color, pumpkins, the advent of fall and for the last 25 years it has been the month dedicated to raising funds and awareness about breast cancer.

A disease projected to affect more than 300,000 women this year alone, according to statistics provided by American Cancer Society, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and nationally 39,000 will succumb to the disease.

But, the good news, according to the American Cancer Society, is there are more than 2.9 million breast cancer survivors in this country.

"We are the largest October walk for breast cancer in South Palm Beach County and invite participants and teams from Boynton Beach to join us and show their support for our survivors and those going through their breast cancer journey," said Audra Cardillo, the community representative for the South Palm Beach Unit of the American Cancer Society. "We expect an even bigger turn out this year. We changed the route to traverse the Intracoastal, so it will be very scenic."

Making Strides Against Breast Cancer is part of the organization's nationwide series of walking events to raise funds and awareness to end breast cancer.

Last year, 1 million walkers across the country raised more than $60 million to help fight the disease.

Monies raised go for education, research, provide financial assistance to those in need, ensure access to mammograms, and encourage lawmakers to pass legislation advocating for women's health issues.

Karen Nagy, 58, of Boynton Beach, and a nurse at West Boca Medical Center will be one of the repeat walkers this year.

Friends and family from out of town fly down each year to walk with her.

She became involved with the walk in 2008 after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

"I found the lump during a self-examination. Luckily, my lymph nodes weren't affected and I was treated with a new type of targeted radiation called MammoSite, where a balloon with radiated seeds is inserted into the area of the tumor," Nagy said of her diagnosis.

"After having an Oncotype test to determine the type of tumor and its likelihood of recurrence, I elected to have chemotherapy. I wanted to do everything I could to rid myself of the tumor. I finished chemotherapy the first week in October 2008 and participated in my first Making Strides walk at the end of that month. It was traumatic and very emotional. At the end of the walk, the survivors go up on stage. All I could do was sit and cry. It was an emotional day but everyone was very supportive."

Now, the go-to person at West Boca Medical Center when anyone is diagnosed with cancer, Nagy pays it forward.

A friend and co-worker, Andrea Saddler, 50, of Boca Raton has known and worked with Nagy for the past 10 years.

"Karen is a strong person," she said. "When she got the diagnosis, she just did what she had to do. She has a great support system with her mother and five sisters. At the hospital, Karen always goes above and beyond with the cancer patients to help and encourage them. She offers resources and emotional support and because she can relate to the patients, she tells them what to expect."

A former patient of Nagy's who became a friend is Sandy Regan, 49, of Boca Raton. Born with cystic fibrosis, an inherited disease of the mucus and sweat glands, Regan spends significant time in the hospital for treatment.

"I've known Karen for 14 years. Karen is always supportive of me, so when she was diagnosed, I wanted to support her," said Regan, who fundraises for children with cystic fibrosis to send them to the Sunny Shores Sea Camp in Vero Beach.

For the past four years, the two friends have been making strides together.

"The walk is always a fun day and very moving," Regan said. "It's great to see so many survivors and know you can surmount this disease."

Nagy's team, the Sisterhood of the Traveling Tatas, hopes to raise $2,000 through friends, family and coworkers.

"It's a lot of fun. We get crazier each year," Nagy said. "Last year we had a bra decorating party. We bought butterfly wings, pink feathers and I wore a pink wig."

As a patient and a nurse, Nagy is a strong advocate of yearly mammograms. "If you can catch it early, you have a much better outcome and prognosis," she said. "Don't be afraid. Educate yourself."

She also encourages people who've been diagnosed with cancer to contact the American Cancer Society and utilize their resources.

"They were wonderful," Nagy said. "They contacted me to see if I needed rides or support, and have many programs such as the Look Good/Feel Better Program to help improve quality of life and self-esteem. I'm their biggest advocate."

To make a donation, or for more information on Making Strides or on the American Cancer Society, visit makingstrides.acsevents.org or cancer.org.

The American Cancer Society recommends the following guidelines for mammograms:

Women age 40 and older should have a screening mammogram every year and should continue to do so for as long as they are in good health.

Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam as part of a periodic (regular) health exam by a health professional, at least every three years. After age 40, women should have a breast exam by a health professional every year.

Women at high risk (greater than 20 percent lifetime risk) should get an MRI and a mammogram every year. Women at moderately increased risk (15 percent to 20 percent lifetime risk) should talk with their doctors about the benefits and limitations of adding MRI screening to their yearly mammogram. Yearly MRI screening is not recommended for women whose lifetime risk of breast cancer is less than 15 percent.

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