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Helping victims of breast cancer one step at a time

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Murder, suicide or cancer would never affect my life. At least, that is what I thought 11 years ago, whether from ignorance of youth or optimism not yet jaded by age. They have all had a profound effect on my life and on the people around me.

It began Aug. 4, 1995, when gunfire broke out in what was rated as the safest city in the country. It concluded in the death of my sister's husband, Simi Valley Police Officer Michael F. Clark. At 28, Jenifer Clark was left with a 6-month-old son and the notoriety of being the widow of the first Simi Valley police officer to be killed in the line of duty. Jenifer had no idea this would mark the beginning of a chain of disastrous events that would occur over the next decade.

April 1, 1999, Jenifer lost another piece of herself, with the passing of her mother and friend, Lana R. Landry. Then, a year later, she learned her brother-in-law had shot and killed himself and had tried to kill her sister.

In early 2004, Jenifer found a lump on her breast. She dismissed it; she had no family history of cancer. She told herself the biopsy would be routine, standard procedure. Closure came Sept. 20, 2004, in four words: "You have breast cancer."

That fateful word, "cancer," the big "C," conjures up feelings of dread and doom. With her own mortality staring her in the face, she broke down, and, like many others, asked, "Why?"

She had no idea that every three minutes in the United States a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. Every 14 minutes, it takes another life. An estimated 40,000 will die from the disease this year. More than 3 million women live with breast cancer, and 1 million are unaware of their disease.

Many have said to Jenifer, "You have had such a tragic life." Her reply is always: "No. I have only experienced tragic events in my life."

Jenifer made a choice to move forward, speak up and be heard. She has triumphed over tragedy by becoming an advocate for causes that have affected her life. For 11 years, she has been asked to participate in many things and has given her time and skills: D.A.R.E. rallies, campaigning for the election of District Attorney Greg Totten, volunteering with the Victims Advocate Unit of the District Attorney's Office and serving as a bereavement counselor with the Ministry of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. One of the most important things she feels she has done was speaking before the state Legislature in support of Senate Bill 1224, the no-parole sentencing law. Gov. Pete Wilson signed it into law in 1998.

Since her battle with breast cancer, her mission has been to join with the masses to fight this disease by participating in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer on Sept. 16 and 17 in Los Angeles. She will walk a total of 39.3 miles, camp out in a tent and use portable toilets for two days. Anyone who knows Jenifer knows she is a "girly girl." Camping is not in her vocabulary. A portable toilet sends chills down her spine.

Longtime friend and local chiropractor, Deborah W. Wollum, will join Jenifer. Deborah realized she had many patients who had been touched by breast cancer.

During 17 years in practice, Deborah has been an active participant in community fundraising through the Rotary Club of Simi Valley. The following businesses, clubs and people have made a donation of $500 to the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in support of Jenifer and Deborah: City Printing, Cakes by You, Arthur Landry (Jenifer's dad), Cuneo Air, T. Binder Electric, State Farm Insurance/Paula Miller, Simi Valley Police Officers Association, 1 2 3 Ink Jet and Simi Valley noontime Rotary Club. At Deborah's and Jenifer's expense, and with rock-bottom prices provided by City Printing, T-shirts were produced with the sponsors' names. Anyone who donates $25 to the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer through Jenifer or Deborah receives a shirt as appreciation.

Jenifer and Deborah began this journey in an effort to reach as many people as possible and to find new ways to include the community. Training walks with Deborah and Jenifer are being held every Tuesday and Thursday from 8 to 9:30 a.m. until Sept. 14. Tuesdays, the walks are at Rancho Tapo Community Park (Lemon Park), 3700 Avenida Simi, and Thursdays at Rancho Madera Community Park, 556 Lake Park Drive, off Wood Ranch Parkway. They invite you to join them.

Donations for Jenifer or Deborah can be dropped off or mailed to Deborah's office Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays, 1720 E. Los Angeles Ave., Suite I, Simi Valley, CA 93065. All checks are to be made out to Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.

To make a donation online, visit Go to "donate," "donate to a participant," "Los Angeles," "search for a participant" (either Jenifer Clark or Deborah Wollum) and make a tax-deductible donation. Questions can be answered by calling 520-2780.

Jenifer knows what touches one life affects many. Life is a natural cycle of ever-changing events, a progression that begins in birth and ends in death. When death comes suddenly, it seems senseless. We ask, "Why?"

The reasons are elusive. Our perception of the reflections of the past will provide the keys to the gates of tomorrow. It is our choice to remember the lessons of yesterday to answer the questions of the future.

I write this in memory of all who have died and, even more, for all who have survived.

Jana D. Leth lives in Simi Valley.

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