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.
"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.
This coming April, in honor of my mother and my friend Jill Karnicki, my wife Donna and I will travel to Houston to take part in our own breast cancer walk. In another bout of coincidence, Donna -- herself a former News-Press reporter -- and Jill -- a former News-Press photographer -- walked the Avon Walk that fateful year for the paper when their subject was too weakened by her cancer treatment to do it herself.
And now this year, doctors gave Jill a stage 1 diagnosis. They caught it early, thank God, and her prognosis is good. But it galvanized Jill's group of friends to join in the Avon walk with a group named, ahem, "The Hot Tatamales."
I'm one of the few guys in the crew, but since I look OK in pink, I'm sure I'll be fine.
The walk is a fundraiser for cancer research, and all participants need to raise a minimum of $1,800. Rather than simply badgering our friends, we are having an art exhibit next Saturday to showcase and sell photos from our recent Wall Street project. All proceeds will go toward the walk.
But what is this project, you ask? It is a photo essay of the California cities that have a stretch of pavement called "Wall Street" and the road trip it took to get there.
In July, Donna and I drove nearly 2,000 miles up and down the state visiting a dozen. Our itinerary included: Bakersfield, Shafter, Independence, Placerville, Sacramento, Auburn, Chico, Redding, Ft. Bragg, Livermore, San Jose and Cambria.
In some of these places, like Placerville, Wall Street is less than 200 feet long. In others, like Bakersfield, it runs through the middle of a bustling commercial district. But all are real places, roads where people live, work and dream. That is to say, not shorthand for America's financial capital. It's similar to the difference between the word "Hollywood" and the actual neighborhood of Los Angeles.
We have about 10 more to visit, including the one running through Los Angeles' Skid Row. But I believe we have enough to show, that the images are good ones, and we haven't embarrassed ourselves.
But how does this relate to breast cancer? We're doing this walk in part for Jill, an incredible photographer in her own right. This is a fundraiser for that walk.
So, on that vein, I'd like to cordially invite all of you to the opening reception. Check out the work, eat some cheese and do what you do at an art opening. Here are the details:
• What: Opening reception for The Wall Street Project
• When: Saturday, Sept. 14 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
• Where: Geo Gallery, 1545 Victory Blvd., Glendale
With your help, perhaps my friend Jill — and the untold thousands of women like her — will reach Gaviña-Valls' impressive 15-year mark and remain cancer free for all their days.
DAN EVANS is the editor. When he's not trying on pink walking shoes, he can be reached at (818) 637-3234 or firstname.lastname@example.org.