When you look up the word cancer, “evil,” “poison” and “plague” are listed as synonyms. When you encounter individuals who have faced cancer, the words “fearless,” “strong,” and “warrior” come to mind. How can such opposing forces be associated with each other?
Cancer does not discriminate. It affects each and every one of us in some capacity, and this year alone, 400,000 individuals will die from this horrible disease. Despite all of the research, treatment and awareness, 246,000 individuals will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, including 2,600 men, and it will continue to be the second leading cause of death for women. This is breast cancer, and this month we honor the heroes behind the pink ribbon who are battling every day, those who have fought and live to share their journey, and all those who have left behind a legacy.
In 2013, a daughter pleaded with her mother to have a lump, which she detected, checked by a doctor. The lump, thought to be a simple cyst, was diagnosed as Triple Negative Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Early detection would prove to be key in the prevention of the cancer spreading to her lymph nodes. While this tumor was defined as breast cancer, not once did breast cancer define the person whom it lived within. This woman behind the pink ribbon is one of the 49ers team photographers, a member of the 49ers family, a confidant to the team, and now a hero to many.
“The day I was diagnosed, I remember experiencing denial, and allowing myself 24 hours to be sad, be mad, ask why, and cry,” recalls Team Photographer, Kym Fortino, “I had to reassure my family and children that cancer is not a death sentence.”
Life would not pause for Kym as a mother, as a photographer, or as a fighter battling breast cancer.
“Following those first twenty-four hours, my mentality shifted from fear to fight.”
“The thing about cancer is that your body becomes a chemical warzone and you have to find those things that make you feel alive. For me, it was my camera and football. It’s where I refueled my strength and determination. Whether it came from players, cheerleaders, or staff, it provided all I needed to get through the next treatment.”
The season kicked off, and treatment began for Kym. She had scheduled her chemotherapy on Mondays, in hopes of feeling well enough for travel at the end of the week and take the field with her camera in hand on Sundays. Members of the 49ers family rallied together in support of her battle, with players writing her name on their gameday cleats, staff cutting their hair and donating it to Pantene Beautiful Lengths, and the late breast cancer survivor, and 49ers Total Access Host and Gold Rush cheerleader, Melissa Galvin Dobson, sitting by her side at treatments. After four aggressive months of chemotherapy, 30 rounds of radiation, and 186 days of fighting, Kym was declared cancer-free. What Kym did not realize throughout her battle, was the impact she made on the 49ers family. Her fight sparked the conversation for those who had previously faced the disease, motivated many to do more to help those battling, and encouraged everyone to get screened.
As part of the NFL’s Breast Cancer Awareness Initiative and inspired by Kym’s battle, the 49ers launched the “Salute to Strength” program which recognizes survivors related to the 49ers coaches, players and front office staff, along with survivors from American Cancer Society and Dignity Health’s breast cancer programs. The 49ers, in partnership with Dignity Health, annually host the “BCA Warriors” for a day of various activities which have ranged from spa treatments to football drills, meet and greets with the team, and fellowship. Over the past four years, the 49ers have welcomed hundreds of women, and in 2016, we were joined by male warriors as well. While the event revolves around honoring the survivors and providing a day of enthusiasm and fun, it certainly makes an incredible impact on the team and organization as a whole. The stories of the 49ers BCA Warriors—the individuals behind the pink ribbon—become a source of inspiration to play for more and a reminder to get screened.
In addition to “Salute to Strength,” the 49ers will host the breast cancer survivors and their loved ones for a VIP gameday experience, including participating in an on-field halftime ceremony at the Breast Cancer Awareness game presented by Dignity Health. American Cancer Society’s breast cancer programs will be the beneficiary of the 49ers 50/50 raffle on October 23rd, as well as 49ers “Paint the Row Pink” presented by Dignity Health, a wine stroll which took place on Santana Row this past Thursday.
Get involved with 49ers #BCAStrong, by joining the 49ers social media campaign and expressing words of motivation and encouragement, as seen in the images captured by the 49ers photography team including Terrell Lloyd, Meg Williams and breast cancer survivor, Kym Fortino. Help share the story, and make the “Crucial Catch.”