Women Unite to Bring Breast Cancer License Plate to California

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Update: In March 2017, the pink plate project hit the required pre-order sales of 7,500 plates to become an official California license plate!

Five breast cancer survivors are working tirelessly to get enough pink license plates pre-ordered for their release as a statewide fund-raiser. Pictured, left to right: Heather Solari, Deborah Bordeau, Heather McCullough, Carla Kimball, and Chere Rush.

Chere Rush, Heather McCullough, Heather Solari, and Deborah Bordeau have a lot in common.

They’re mothers, professional people, active community members, friends, and they all go to the same Kaiser Permanente physician, Rakesh Bhutani, MD.

Dr. Bhutani is an oncologist, because the women share one more thing: They are breast cancer survivors.

United by a disease so ravaging that each has undergone surgeries, chemotherapy, and continuing treatments, the quartet, along with friend and survivor Carla Kimball, have somehow found the strength to take on a mammoth cancer awareness project benefitting the public.

Chere Rush’s Story

Chere Rush was 39 when she felt the lump in her breast. With three small boys and a thriving housecleaning business, she ignored it. For four months.

By the time she saw Dr. Bhutani at the Kaiser Permanente Antioch Medical Center, the lump was large and painful. An immediate biopsy showed the diagnosis was Stage IV breast cancer.

The diagnosis meant Rush had two years to live. She broke the news to her sons, 8-year-old twins and a 10-year-old.

“That was the hardest part,” she said. “I have a strong faith in God and wasn’t scared. He knows the number of my days. But I was afraid to leave my children.”

After a lumpectomy, removal of 18 lymph nodes, chemotherapy, and a mastectomy to beat her cancer, Rush has lived another decade.

She describes her cancer as “alive but not active,” due to infusions every three weeks that at the same time are slowly damaging her heart. Rush may need a break from the treatment that keeps her cancer at bay.

“We don’t worry about it,” she said, adding that she is much more occupied with the milestone she never thought she would see — getting the twins off to college.

The Pink Plate Project

Like Rush, Deborah Bordeau felt too busy to get the small lump checked out by her physician. Her cancer was diagnosed half a year later.

Like Bordeau, Heather McCullough ignored the signs, then was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer.

Heather Solari learned she had breast cancer just a few months after losing her mother to the disease. At 25, she elected for bilateral mastectomies and a hysterectomy.

Faced with difficult choices, Carla Kimball, of Los Angeles, elected for a double mastectomy. After 14 hours of surgery, physicians found malignant tumors in both breasts. She says early detection and treatment saved her life.

Through the town of Brentwood or the survivor community, the five found each other and called themselves The Survivor Sisters. They created an “uplifting” Facebook page for breast cancer survivors. Then in 2012 they found their cause: More than 30 U.S. states had breast cancer awareness license plates, but not California.

“Everyone in California is in cars, so what better place to get the message out?” asked Rush.

“We wanted to pay it forward and do something that had a long-lasting effect,” said Bordeau.

It was a long road, however.

They got the support of then-Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, then in 2014 Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation approving the plates. But the California Department of Transportation requires 7,500 pre-orders. The pink plates went on sale at $50 each in September 2015. So far, 2,477 have been sold.

The plan is that a portion of funds generated from the plates would go into the Breast Cancer Control Account, which funds Every Woman Counts, providing free clinical breast exams and mammograms to California’s underserved women.

“We are using every avenue to get up to 7,500 pre-orders,” said Bordeau. The group has appeared on morning TV shows and in People magazine.

“Although the plates will be pink, they say, ‘Early detection saves lives,’ she added. “That is the message: The earlier any cancer is caught, the higher your chances of survival.”

Learn more about the California Pink Plate Project.

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