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Breast cancer survivor joins the ongoing fight

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

Within a few minutes of meeting Jeri Worklan you know, with a degree of certainty, who is sitting across from you.

She is direct and doesn’t get flustered by much. Plus, she’s a former pharmaceutical saleswoman — whose unofficial title was “The Premarin Princess” — and knows a lot about breast cancer because of her former occupation. She also has a degree in chemistry.

It makes sense when she calls herself “the poster child for early detection” of breast cancer. She was faithful in getting mammograms. She’s well-educated and level-headed.

So in March 1999 when small cancerous lumps were discovered in her right breast, Worklan was, for the most part, methodical. She researched the type of cancer, talked matter-of-factly with doctors who were her friends and customers, scheduled treatment, then gently — but confidently — told her husband and children.

After several weeks of radiation treatment, the cancer was gone.

She is one of the organizers of the Koman Race for the Cure, scheduled for June 17 at Qwest Field in Seattle and held by the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. The organization has a goal to raise $1.5 million this year.

While a cancer survivor, Worklan tells others her story isn’t the one that tugs at people’s emotions or brings money in for research.

“Having breast cancer is not a death sentence, but it’s a very scary statement,” Worklan said.

Although the radiation therapy was tiring, and there were emotional moments, Worklan is the first to say it pales compared to stories others have told her.

Lost hair, lost health, lost income, recurring cancer and death are common themes.

So, Worklan does what she can and does a lot.

She heads the “Decked in Pink” team, is a member of the Komen Race for the Cure committee for the Puget Sound area, and recently was part of a 10-member team of breast cancer survivors who attended a culinary program — Cook for the Cure Survivors Week — in Tuscany, Italy.

She did her first “Komen walk” in 2000 and put together her “Princess Party” team.

“It was awesome,” she said.

Worklan dresses the part of a princess down to a tiara, pink feather boa and pink wig.

It embarrasses her adult kids. Her friends love it. Those on her team also wear pink.

During the walk, she meets people she’s seen for years who have been cancer-free, have fought it two or three times or were diagnosed for the first time just days before the race.

Along with the walk, Worklan created the Survivor Celebration for those who have survived breast cancer. It’s a time — and special place — for survivors to celebrate, get a goody bag, share stories and gather strength.

“They become your best friends for 10 minutes,” she said.

And she hopes the survivors she sees this year will be back next year.

“That’s what you pray for,” Worklan said.

There’s a bond created between women who survive breast cancer that doesn’t seem to occur with survivors of other types of cancer, she noted.

Perhaps it explains why one room of Worklan’s house is quickly filling with frogs.

Not real frogs but glass frogs, pottery frogs, pictures of frogs, chocolate frogs, frog glasses and frog pot holders, to name a fraction of what’s there.

All of them — Worklan said they are symbols of luck — take up four large bookcases. A large plush frog is ensconced on a file cabinet on the other side of the room. One year her Christmas tree was decorated in a frog motif.

Newer is Worklan’s collection of “pink” items that includes her feather boa, wig and bejeweled tiara.

That collection is starting to take up another wall in the room.

She said friends from around the world, some she has met and others she hasn’t, send her the frogs and pink gear.

“My whole life I’ve been blessed with friends,” Worklan said.

She made more friends recently on a trip to Tuscany, Italy.

Worklan was invited to attend the weeklong event with nine other breast cancer survivors.

A foodie and of Italian ancestry, Worklan was in heaven getting to cook alongside master chefs, making new friends and touring the area around Tuscany.

“On a scale of one to 10, it was a 100,” Worklan said of the event in April.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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