“Giving is the most rewarding thing you can do.” – Heather Solari
Traditionally, we think of cancer as something we’ll face later in life; after we’ve lived several chapters, amassed some amazing memories. It’s that monster lurking in the shadows we don’t have to face until we’re well into our 50’s.
Heather Solari knows all to well that cancer doesn’t see age. It’s a disease that doesn’t care how many memories you’ve made or how many more years you want to experience. Heather was diagnosed with breast cancer at 25 years old. Early detection saved her life.
And now she’s on a mission to save your life, too. Working alongside four of her dear friends, Heather is part of the Pink Plate Campaign. This group of five passionate women (all breast cancer survivors) have put together specialized license plates for the state of California, where proceeds from the purchase of each plate are donated to the Breast Cancer Control Account, which funds the Every Woman Counts. The EWC program partners with county departments of public health and county health consortia across California to provide women with local, easy access to screenings. Early screenings means earlier detection. And early detection means more survivors.
As this weeks #WCW Spotlight, Heather shares why providing easy access to screenings for early detection is so important to her and what it would mean to see the streets of California flooded with pink plates.
Me: You were diagnosed at a very early age and been in remission for over five years. As a cancer survivor, what is one thing you wish people knew?
Heather: One thing I would like people to know is cancer knows no age. People tend to assume breast cancer only affects women over 40. I was diagnosed at age 25; I have met some very strong women along the way that battled at very young ages. The most important thing for me it to be aware, know your body and do your self-exams.
Me: How has your outlook on life changed since you were first diagnosed with breast cancer?
Heather: I was diagnosed shortly after my mom passed. The combination of losing my mom and being diagnosed hit my family and me hard. I was young and careless. Now, I look at each day as an opportunity, I get to watch my daughter grow, I landed my dream job, but most importantly I spend as much time with my family as possible.
Me: As a mom, and one of the things you love to do with your daughter is coach her sports teams. How has life as a survivor affect your parenting, if at all?
Heather: Physically you wouldn’t notice anything has changed, I have some limitations and I’ve added a few pounds of cushion, but I don’t let that stop me. I’m always one of the first parents to get out there and run around with the kids. Emotionally, I tend to be a little “softer” now, she is very spoiled and I’m ok with that. She turns 10 soon and she’s watched a lot happen in her short time and she deserves every ounce of happiness I can give her.
Me: Being a mom while balancing a full time job demands a lot of your time, energy, and attention. Why is dedicating energy to turning these plates into a reality a top priority for you?
Heather: That’s easy – saving lives. Seeing these plates on the road 365 days a year will bring awareness. My mom saved my life. Had I not been so aware of breast cancer and the high probability I could get it. I wouldn’t have done my self-exam. These plates will remind women all over the state to get a mammogram or do their self-exam.
Me: Has giving back always been a part of your life? Or something that came about later in life?
Heather: I’d like to say it’s always been there it just didn’t shine through until the plates. I have always helped coach youth sports, even before I had my daughter. My mom was extremely active in our community. So given the opportunity I jumped on it especially for something so close to my heart.
Me: You are one of five women working on this campaign. How did the five of you come together?
Heather: For me it started in chemo a nurse friend mentioned there was another Heather and that she to was really young. We ended up meeting and instantly became friends. She knew Chere from her son’s school, and Chere knew Debbie. We all met each other at a Relay for Life event in our area. We started meeting up more often and the idea of a pink plate was born, Carla (also a survivor) loved the idea of pink plate and joined of efforts.
Me: The license plates donate to Every Woman Counts with a focus on educating women on the importance of getting checked regularly and the life saving difference of early detection, which holds a special place in your heart. Why is that?
Heather: Everyone Woman Counts program is special to me because when I was first diagnosed I had very recently got my own insurance. The insurance company quickly rejected my claim; they felt it was a pre-existing condition. I was referred to the Every Woman Counts program for treatment. The program offers screening, prevention, and treatment for women that don’t have insurance. My doctor ended up writing letters and fighting against my insurance company. In the end they ended up covering most of my treatment. I didn’t end up using Every Woman Counts, but the peace of mind was knowing I could still be treated.
Me: Your current goal for 2016 is to get 7,500 license plates on the road in California by August, which is an amazing goal. What do you, and the rest of the team, see as the next step, once you’ve reached that goal?
Heather: Once we reach or 7,500 orders we will continue to advocate for early detection. It is our goal to keep spreading the word and save lives.
Me: Currently 32 states across the US have these places on the road. What will it mean to you, personally, to see these plates on the road here in California?
Heather: It will personally pose as a tribute for my mom, aunt, and grandmother who all lost their battles. If we can encourage just one person to get checked the whole effort will be worth it. Imagine if we could encourage millions. We have worked hard to leave a lasting impact for women/men and their families. The best part about the plate is everyone has their own story; each person who puts one on their car has been impacted by breast cancer in someway.
Me: If someone wants to purchase a license plate, what do they need to do? What about people outside California who wants to support your mission, but don’t live in the state?
Heather: To purchase go to www.pinkplate.org. You will need your current vehicles license plate and your debit/credit card. For supporters outside of California, there is an option to purchase a plate as a gift. We need everyone’s help spreading the word. Continue to share the website and tell everyone you know.
Me: For those breast cancer survivors and their loved ones who live in one of the 18 other US states where these plates are not yet on the road, what can they do to get these plates on the road in their state?
Heather: Contact your states DMV; they should have a guild line on how to create a new plate.
Me: What has been the most surprising part of your give back efforts? What about the most inspiring part of this adventure?
Heather: Honestly the most surprising for us is how long it has taken. Going into this, we thought people would be overwhelmingly supportive and the 7,500 plates would fly in. Each step in the process has been rewarding, we continue to fight and spread the word. The most inspiring part is knowing that some day soon we will be able to share with millions that EARLY DETECTION SAVES LIVES.
Me: What is the one piece of advice you would want to share with someone who wants to follow in your footsteps of using their own unique talents and life experiences to give back?
Heather: Go for it! Giving is the most rewarding thing you can do.
Keep up to date with Heather and the Pink Plate Campaign on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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