Fighting Against Breast Cancer in Chicago

She sits, typing fervently at her desktop, in front of a picturesque window that showcases the gleaming water of Lake Michigan. The lazy dreaminess of the lake is an ironic juxtaposition to her steadfast movements. Boxes on top of boxes crowd her eighth floor office, random pink objects overflowing from them. The two empty Starbucks cups signify that she’s running solely on caffeine and determination.

Kate Opalko is the administrator of the Lynn Sage Cancer Research Foundation. Since moving into her position in September of 2016, Opalko has worked on three of the organization’s four major events. The fourth one quickly approaching, she works tirelessly to ensure that the annual golf outing at the end of June runs smoothly.

The organization that hosts these events is the Lynn Sage Cancer Research Foundation. Coined LSCRF, the foundation is a pioneering force in women’s health in the Chicagoland area. Started out of mourning, LSCRF was founded by the friends and family of a Chicago woman who lost her six-year battle with breast cancer. Her name was Lynn Sage. In 1985, 17 of her closest friends laid the foundation for one of the largest breast cancer charities in the country.

“This was a way to perpetuate Lynn’s memory and give credence to the struggle that she had,” says Charlene Lieber, a founding member of LSCRF.

Since its inception 32 years ago, the foundation has raised over $31 million dollars for breast cancer research. The majority of this money is raised from the four annual events that Opalko helps organize. Kicking off the year, LSCRF’s winter event is an event for the whole family called Be My Valentine. The event, that took place on January 29, 2017, caters not only to those with breast cancer but their family members as well.

Families enjoy LSCRF’s Be My Valentine event on January 29, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Sheri Whitko Photography)

Families enjoy LSCRF’s Be My Valentine event on January 29, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Sheri Whitko Photography)

Quickly approaching on June 26, 2017, the foundation’s second event, Play for the Cure, is a golf outing held at the Lake Shore Country Club. This event inspired current Chair of the Board, Julie Lampert, to become more involved in the organization after volunteering for a friend in 2005.

“She asked if I would help out with the raffle and after spending the day with this amazing group of dedicated women & men I knew I wanted to be part of their organization,” she says.

Golf carts wait on the green at the Play for the Cure Golf Outing on June 27, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Sheri Whitko Photography)

Golf carts wait on the green at the Play for the Cure Golf Outing on June 27, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Sheri Whitko Photography)

The golf outing is followed by the Fall Benefit Luncheon on October 2, 2017. Each year, the event hosts a special guest that holds a connection to the cause. Previous speakers have been Joan Lunden and Maya Rudolph. This year’s special guest speaker will be Kathy Bates.

From left to right: Brad Jarol, Joan Lunden, Loren Palmer, and Julie Lampert at the Fall Benefit Luncheon on October 25, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Sheri Whitko Photography)

From left to right: Brad Jarol, Joan Lunden, Loren Palmer, and Julie Lampert at the Fall Benefit Luncheon on October 25, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Sheri Whitko Photography)

LSCRF caps off their year of events on October 14, 2017 with the Pink Path Run. Starting at Diversey Harbor, the 5K race takes participants along the lake shore while they run in honor of family members and friends touched by cancer.

Runners race in pink at the Pink Path Run on October 15, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Sheri Whitko Photography)

Runners race in pink at the Pink Path Run on October 15, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Sheri Whitko Photography)

The proceeds garnered from the continual success of the four events allows LSCRF to remain a forerunner in breast cancer research. The organization partners with Northwestern Memorial Hospital which allows it to work with healthcare professionals on the cutting edge of cancer technology. The partnership also helps LSCRF to outsource its employees from the hospital. As a result, administrative costs come out to about 6%. A larger margin of the profits are able to fund projects that the organization believes in and other community initiatives.

“Trailblazers” is the term Lampert, uses to describe the organization. LSCRF is helping to fund the Breast Cancer OncoSET Program that the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Care Center Of Northwestern University recently launched at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

“The knowledge we will gain from this project will not only take us to new levels in breast cancer research but will enable doctors to apply this information to cancer patients overall,” says Lampert.

The projects funded by the organization are typically ones that are overlooked by the National Cancer Institute. As described by Opalko, these projects are typically “big risk,” meaning their failure could cost sponsors a lot of money. As a result, larger organizations are unable to chance a loss of funding. However, LSCRF is willingly to take the risk on Chicago based initiatives.

“But they’re also big reward,” she says. “If they do work, they could be the next step in cancer innovation.”

Continually, the foundation hosts its own symposium in September that brings in doctors from around the globe to discuss the topic of breast cancer. The conference acts as a meeting place for leading physicians and researchers to exchange ideas on finding a cure for cancer.

“I am a big believer in team work and being a united front since we are all working toward the same goal,” says Lampert, regarding the symposium.

In an effort to strengthen the team, LSCRF is actively seeking ways to partner with other organizations in Chicago that benefit breast cancer research and education. Helping Her Live is one of the disparity of care initiatives funded by the organization. Partnering with Dr. Melissa Simon, LSCRF made a 3-year $300,000 commitment to the program that provides low cost cancer care to predominately African American women in low income areas.

However, beyond the scientific steps made by the organization, foundations such as LSCRF and Susan G. Komen create communities among those affected by the disease. From races to luncheons to handbooks, women’s health centric organizations foster comradery between those affected.

“It is such a strong group of women who support each other,” says Mary Schiffhauer, a 13-year breast cancer survivor. “They offer wonderful programs to connect newly diagnosed patients with survivors for support, educational materials, clinics, and so much more!”

The efforts put forth by Lynn Sage Cancer Research Foundation are helping to make advancements towards a cure for breast cancer. Their yearly events have garnered immense support from the community which allows them to continually give back to the Chicagoland area. The organization connects hundreds of women, building a team and fostering hope for an end to breast cancer.

“We have become the equivalent of the brand name for quality breast care,” says Lieber. “Breast care in Chicago is really Lynn Sage.”

Kira Latoszewski