Saving lives is part of the job for Los Angeles County Sheriffs deputies. Now they are going above and beyond the call of duty to help in another way — by raising funds for breast cancer research and treatment through the Pink Patch Project
In October, public safety officers around Southern California swap out their regular uniform patches for bright pink versions for breast cancer awareness. The Pink Patch Project began in 2015 and has since spread to law enforcement agencies across the Southland. The L.A. County Sheriffs Department joined last year and raised more than any other agency for City of Hope — $35,000.
The Pink Patch Project’s goal is to increase awareness about the lifesaving benefits of early detection and intervention in the fight against breast cancer. It also raises funds from the sale of Pink Patch Project items (patches, T-shirts, buttons and more) to go directly to fund the research, treatment and education needed to help find a cure. Today, more than 170 public safety agencies – inside and outside California – participate in the program.
The Sheriffs Department got involved initially through its 30-member Malibu Search and Rescue team. The wives of two team members had died of breast cancer in recent years, including the wife of Malibu SAR Team Leader David Katz. She passed away from the disease five years ago at age 48, leaving two children.
SAR team member Steve Marshall spearheaded the effort to get pink patches for his department. As his request worked its way through the approval process, the L.A. County Sheriffs Department not only approved SAR’s pink patch, they decided to take the effort department-wide.
“It spread like wildfire,” Marshall said. “We got an initial 500 patches and they sold out within 24 hours, and then we ordered 3,000 more and they sold out within a week.” (Sheriffs Department members are selling – instead of wearing – the patches, he said, because logistically it would be too difficult and expensive to replace all 10,000 uniform patches just for the month of October. This year, they are also selling pink ribbon lapel pins with the department patch in the middle. The patches sell for $10 and the pins for $15, and 100 percent of proceeds go to City of Hope. You can purchase them here
, and they will also be selling them at the L.A. County Fair.)
“Our patch was the crown jewel of the project,” Marshall said. “I get chills thinking about it still. I was thinking we’d sell a couple hundred, not 3,500 LASD patches. We have other units who are now doing it, too. It’s catching on. Last year, we got a call from LAPD saying, ‘We want to get on board. How do we do it?’ Now they’re on board as well.”
Of course, the Sheriffs Department has breast cancer survivors among its own ranks. One of them, Commander Cheryl Newman-Tarwater, 52, was treated for breast cancer earlier this year. She immediately embraced the Pink Patch Project. She calls her own breast cancer story “miraculous.”
Newman-Tarwater’s mother is a 30-year breast cancer survivor. Her great-grandmother also suffered from the disease. So Newman-Tarwater’s doctor has always monitored her closely: She has had breast biopsies dating back to her 20s. In March of this year, she had her first breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), because of her high risk factors.
“Through the MRI they saw something they were concerned about, which concerned me,” she recalled. It turned out that she had Stage 1 lobular cancer. “Had I relied on mammograms, it wouldn’t have been picked up for a year or two,” she said. Her treatment team recommended a double mastectomy because her form of cancer had a high probability of returning. Because the cancer was caught so early, however, she was able to forgo radiation and chemotherapy. She is on hormone-blocking medication for five years and will have final reconstruction surgery on Nov. 30.
When City of Hope reached out to her via her captain to speak about her experience at the Pink Patch Project kickoff in June, Newman-Tarwater did not hesitate — even though it was just a week before her double-mastectomy procedure.
“I just want to raise awareness and let people know that they have to get checked,” she said. “I’ve had two people come up to me since I spoke and said, ‘I got a mammogram because of your story.’”
It’s still hard to take in that she is a cancer survivor, Newman-Tarwater said. “It’s almost surreal to this day. I used to drive home saying to myself ‘OK, I have cancer.’ I still remember my doctor’s voice — as soon as I heard it, I knew it was bad news. I still couldn’t believe it. Even the day of the surgery, I’m getting ready to get wheeled in and I was thinking, ‘I can’t believe I’m here.’
“So I want to help others,” she said. “You have to take control of your health, stay up on your checkups. Early-risk assessment is the way to go. Prevention, early intervention. In this day and age, we shouldn’t have people be getting Stage 3 and 4 breast cancer. It just shouldn’t be happening.”
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