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SEPTA Shows its Pink Passion

Heather Redfern and Manuel McDonnell Smith
SEPTA Media Relations

Over the course of their lifetime, one in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer. In Pennsylvania, 32 women are diagnosed with the disease every day." Given those odds, and with more than 9,000 members in our SEPTA family, not one week goes by without one of our employees being touched by breast cancer in some way," said SEPTA General Manager Joseph M. Casey. "Whether it is an employee or a loved one who has been diagnosed, breast cancer has had an impact at the Authority."

To create awareness of the struggle women across the Commonwealth encounter when fighting breast cancer, SEPTA has partnered with the PA Breast Cancer Coalition to bring the Coalition's "67 Women, 67 Counties: Facing Breast Cancer in Pennsylvania" photo exhibit to Market East Station through October 9. The exhibit's 20 photo panels stand seven-feet tall and showcase women from each of Pennsylvania's 67 counties who have battled breast cancer. The exhibit has been traveling to communities throughout the state since 1994. The photos are updated and include women of all ages and races.

"It is our privilege to host '67 Women, 67 Counties' and assist the PA Breast Cancer Coalition in its breast cancer education and outreach initiatives," said Casey. "Thank you to bus operator Avis Garrett for advocating that SEPTA promote breast cancer awareness and to our nurse Kay Coup for proposing SEPTA partner with the PBCC to bring this powerful photo exhibit to Market East Station."

The "67 Women, 67 Counties" stop at Market East kicked off with a special ceremony on September 26. Several "SEPTA Survivors" participated in the event, sharing their stories to encourage and educate their co-workers and the Authority's customers.

Bus operator Quetta Daniels has driven buses from SEPTA's Callowhill District for 15 years. In 2008, she went to her doctor after finding a pin-like lump in her breast and suffering ongoing stomach issues. The news she received from her doctor "floored" her - she had breast cancer. "When you get that initial diagnosis, your world is shattered and you don't know where to go," she said. Daniels refused to let the disease take over her life. "I never embraced the cancer," she said."I was going to beat it - it wasn't going to beat me." Daniels continued to participate in her regular activities, going out with friends, taking her sons to the movies. The compassion she received from her co-workers, including then superintendent Dave Rogers, made her more relaxed. "They embraced me as a sister and a friend."

Seventeen-year veteran bus operator Chauntann Reid discovered a lump in her breast in 2010 during a self-exam. But, putting her health behind that of her family members and daily activities, she did not seek medical attention until she went to her doctor for another ailment about eight months later. "By that time, I had Stage III cancer that was very aggressive," Reid said. "I let life get in the way of health." After receiving her diagnosis, Reid's treatment progressed rapidly. She underwent three surgeries, 56 radiation treatments and two types of chemo therapy in the course of year. "It was overwhelming, but I didn't take it as 'oh my God, I'm going to die.', I took it as 'what's the next step?'," she said. In addition to her family, Reid found support from her SEPTA family, especially operator Vanessa Price. "I didn't treat her any differently," said Price. "She was a beautiful bald-headed woman. We went to lunch, hung out," said Price. "The illness strengthened our relationship."

Leslie Thomas, a Regional Rail dispatcher for 25 years, was diagnosed in 2009. She also received unwavering encouragement from her colleagues throughout her treatment. Before the diagnosis, "I felt like I was invincible," said Thomas. "But then I felt like my world was over." She realized during her treatment that "it wasn't the end of the world. I was out of work on medical leave for two years. During my surgeries, treatment and recovery, my colleagues truly 'had my back'," she says. "They sent flowers, cards, inspirational texts and messages. I love 'em!"

Thomas' diagnosis came after an abnormal mammogram and she can't stress enough how important the tests are. "Getting mammograms saved my life," she said. As part of the preventative health programs it offers employees, SEPTA invites a mammography van to visit its locations. It was during one of these stops that Operations Administrator Jeri Morton's fight with breast cancer began.

"It was my third year of getting mammograms," said Morton, a 29-year Authority employee. "I had the test done in the van and they found an abnormality. I had to go for further testing, where ductal carcinoma in situ was discovered, as small as a grain of sand." Had she waited a few more years, the disease could have progressed to Stage IV. A survivor since 2005, Morton gives back by talking to others who have been diagnosed with the disease and has participated in the 60-mile walk. She also "will walk with anyone who is too embarrassed to go into the mammography van by herself."

SEPTA Director of Recruitment Dan Amspacher also implores colleagues to get preventative screenings and visit the mammogram van when it stops by the Authority. He knows how devastating a breast cancer diagnosis can be to a patient and his or her family - Amspacher's wife Kelly was diagnosed in 2003, after her first mammogram.

"Sitting in the doctor's office, discussing Kelly's treatment options, I felt helpless," he said. "As a man and the father of a young daughter, I felt that I was supposed to be the protector of my family." Amspacher knew "[my] job was to be there for Kelly." He spent lunch hours with her while she was undergoing treatments. The couple also involved their eight-year old daughter in the treatment process, having her help shave Kelly's head when she started losing her hair. Now 10-year co-survivors, the Amspachers know how fortunate they are. "Cancer doesn't discriminate, it can happen to anyone," Amspacher said. "You can't try to internalize it." The family has participated in breast cancer walks and Kelly counsels others and is active in breast cancer causes.

"We applaud our SEPTA Survivors and co-survivors for their bravery and candidness and thank them for sharing their personal stories," said Casey. "They are an inspiration to their colleagues and our customers every day."

Operator Quetta Daniels credits the support she received from then superintendent Dave Rogers as helping her through her breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

Operator Vanessa Price (left) didn't treat colleague and friend Chauntann Reid (right) any differently after her diagnosis.

Regional Rail dispatcher and SEPTA Survivor Leslie Thomas has participated in breast cancer awareness walks.

Twenty-nine year SEPTA employee Jeri Morton shared her inspirational story at the exhibit's kick-off ceremony.

Kelly and Dan Amspacher have given their time to breast cancer awareness causes.