Vail Valley Scenery column: Samantha Harris speaks at annual Celebration of Life luncheon | VailDaily.com

Vail Valley Scenery column: Samantha Harris speaks at annual Celebration of Life luncheon

Samantha Harris made two points clear:

• When life gives you lemons, you've got to make lemonade.

• Be your own health advocate.

She spoke from experience; at age 40, she went for a base mammogram, which came back clear. Eleven days later, she found a lump on her breast. In fear, she headed to her primary doctor and then to an internist who both reassured her the lump was "nothing."

Four months later, the lump hadn't disappeared, so she visited an oncologist for a consultation. After two ultrasounds and a biopsy, the doctor told her it wasn't anything to be concerned about, but just to be reassured, she had the lump removed.

Cancer.

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"I had a pit in my stomach that bordered on hysteria," Harris said. "With that, my story of cancer began."

Harris is a TV host who appears on "Entertainment Tonight," and is well known for her co-host position with Tom Bergeron on "Dancing with the Stars."

She had the audience at the Vail Breast Cancer Awareness Group's annual Celebration of Life luncheon in the palm of her hand. A great storyteller with a vivacious personality, she told the story of her experience as a young woman with cancer, the support of her husband and the lessons she learned.

"I found some of the 'breast friends' I've ever known," she said, joking. Then with seriousness, she followed up. "It was women like you who walked this walk before me to help me get to the other side. We can get through so much more than we ever thought."

Making Lemonade

Her experience through the journey of cancer prompted her to create a website, http://www.gottamakelemonade.com.

"Our goal is to inspire positivity in the face of adversity," she said. "We aim to build a community of shared personal stories that inspire each other. It's a destination filled with ideas about how to take on life challenges and turn them into something better."

Throughout the years, the annual luncheon has brought in cancer survivors Robin Roberts and Linda Ellerby and other speakers including Elizabeth Edwards, Dr. Nancy Snyderman and Dr. Susan Love. Around $1,000,000 has been raised to go to the women of the valley. No money is given to research; it stays with women who are battling cancer. Brenda Himmelfarb heads the organization and introduced Harris.

Karen Wilhelm's daughter, Gina Maltese, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the Sonnenalp Breast Cancer Center. She went through treatment at the Shaw Regional Cancer Center.

"There was no family history," Wilhelm said. "She received a wonderful package from the Breast Cancer Awareness Group. The Shaw has truly amazing people, and if you have to go through cancer, there is no better place than Shaw."

The Vail Breast Cancer Awareness Group has been in the Vail Valley since 1994. The organization's mission is to help ease the financial and emotional burdens endured by those women in Eagle County who are battling breast cancer. The money the group raises stays in the valley and helps women by providing "Shine on" bags, with $500 for each woman diagnosed through the Sonnenalp Breast Clinic and $50 for each child with a parent diagnosed. The money is to be used for whatever the patient desires.

The group is also helping to purchase a state-of-the-art 3D mammogram machine for the Sonnenalp Breast Cancer Center and is sponsoring Hike, Wine and Dine for Jack's Place on Sept. 18 at the $10,000 level. Tickets are $100 each and may be purchased by clicking on "Events" at http://www.shawcancercenter.com.

Carolyn Pope has covered community service events and nonprofit activities since 2001 and co-authored "The Women of Vail." She can be reached at 970-390-9913.