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Derby Divas is a fundraising event held each April to kick off Derby season as well as to raise awareness about breast cancer and help women in our community who don’t have the resources to get mammograms.

This is a subject that is near and dear to Heather Sexton, this year’s Derby Divas honoree. She is a breast cancer survivor. At the time of her diagnosis, Sexton was a 42-year-old mother of two young children, had always been in excellent health and kept up with her yearly mammograms. Her life was just settling after her husband was diagnosed with a serious illness and recovering from a bone marrow transplant.

“A couple years prior, I had been diagnosed with calcium deposits, so I wasn’t worried when a routine mammogram showed something suspicious,” Sexton said.

After some follow-up testing, she was cleared and asked to return in six months. That mammogram also was clear, but the doctor did an exam, checking both breasts. He felt a lump in her left breast.

“We had been following my right breast, so I was shocked to learn of a lump on my left side,” Sexton said. “The doctor did more tests and confirmed it was cancer. My world stopped spinning. I was paralyzed. All I could think was, ‘This happens to other people. I take care of myself, so it can’t happen to me.’”

Sexton’s cancer was stage 2B. It had invaded some of her lymph nodes, so she required a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation treatment. “In retrospect, I may have detected the lump sooner if I had been more diligent with self-exams,” she said. “I can’t say enough about the importance of early detection. I wish I could tell every woman to do self-exams every month.”

Sadly, breast cancer in younger women (age 40 or younger) can be more aggressive than in older women, and it can be more difficult to detect because younger breast tissue tends to be more dense. That’s why Sexton feels so strongly that women must do self-exams.

Sexton credits her incredibly supportive family, friends and team of doctors for getting her through the long treatment and recovery she endured.

“They see me through,” Sexton said. “They’ve been through it all with me. And I’ve come out of this a braver, stronger person. I know if I can get through cancer, I can get through anything!”

As the Derby Divas event approaches for the seventh year, I look back at the success of the event and how it has impacted our community as well as why it has so much meaning to me personally. In January 2005 and barely 38 years old, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At that time, having both a toddler and a 10-month-old, I was finally feeling that things were back to normal when I found a lump in my breast. Having never had a mammogram, I immediately went to my doctor. Everything indicated fibrocystic breast disease and we opted to surgically remove the lump so that it would not cause unnecessary worry. Two days later I was scheduled to have a simple outpatient procedure at Norton Suburban Hospital and in that one afternoon, I learned that I had not one but three overly aggressive cancerous tumors. A week later I underwent a double mastectomy followed by four months of chemotherapy, reconstruction and another year of an intravenous chemo-related drug.

 Though it was not an easy time, I know that I had such a positive recovery due my early detection of an angry cancer that had not spread and the unconditional love and support that I received from my family, friends, co-workers and the many doctors and nurses at Norton Healthcare. One way or another, everyone helped to take care of my family and me for months on end, including those days when I did not feel well, had no hair and really did not feel like much of a woman. For those reasons, I will be forever grateful and hope that being involved with Derby Divas will not only allow me to raise awareness but also help to provide the same type of care and support for other women within our community. I was fortunate to have access to high-quality health care and, as a result, I am on the winning side of my fight against breast cancer. If I can help someone else win the fight who might not have been able to do so before, then hopefully I will have made a difference in their life just as so many people made in mine eight years ago. It is because of others that I am healthy and enjoying life today!

–Angela Tafel

Thorntons Inc. Challenge

Your support will have an even greater impact this year! Thorntons Inc. has challenged Derby Divas to raise $400,000. If the challenge is met, Thorntons will donate $100,000 – making a total of $500,000 raised to support the Norton Cancer Institute Breast Health Program and mammography for underserved women in our community. Would you like to help? Donate now - choose Norton Healthcare Foundation and write Derby Divas in the "other" box.

For more information about the Norton Cancer Institute Breast Health Program, call (502) 629-8060 or visit

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