Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 30, 2013

Paying it Forward

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Roberta Lathrop was 9 when her mom lost her left breast to cancer, so cancer research is a personal cause.

“As I got older, anything that had the ribbon on it, I’d buy,” said Lathrop, of Traverse City, known to family and friends as “Bert.”

In 2006, when employer Bill Marsh Body and Paint formed a team for the Remembrance Run/Walk that benefits Munson Medical Center’s Women’s Cancer Fund, Lathrop jumped on board. Eventually she became the annual event’s top pledge raiser. The fund provides financial assistance for supportive care to women with cancer — help that isn’t found through traditional financial assistance programs.

“This was something I could do for my mom,” said Lathrop, who later helped organize the annual Bill Marsh Auto Group “Lunch on the Run” program to help boost the run.

But in 2011 it was Lathrop herself who needed assistance. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a single mastectomy.

“I don’t know why I was shocked, but I was,” said Lathrop, who had always known she was at risk for the disease. “The weird thing is I was 44, the same age my mom was when she was diagnosed, and it was my left breast too.”

Facing weeks off from work, Lathrop found herself turning to the Women’s Cancer Fund for help.

“I always raised money for them but I never thought I’d have to use them,” she said. “I was off a month so they paid to have my propane tank filled, which was a huge relief.”

Lathrop said she was “lucky” — she didn’t have to undergo chemotherapy or radiation like her mother, who has battled breast cancer six times. Four months after her surgery she celebrated with a girls-only family trip to Orlando, Fla., where she had a large pink ribbon and the word “Survivor” tattooed above her left breast.

“It’s so when I look in the mirror and see I don’t have that left breast there, I know it’s going to be OK,” said Lathrop, whose, daughter, Anna, sisters Bonnie and Bev, and two nieces also got pink tattoos to show their support.

This year’s Remembrance Run takes place Oct. 5 at Timber Ridge Resort. But instead of participating, Lathrop is raising money for the run through a cookbook she published with the help of family, friends and a healthy discount from a local printer. The cookbook, dedicated to her 81-year-old mother, Carroll Blaszak, is bound with a pink cover printed with the words, “Hope,” “Strength” and “Courage.”

Lathrop said she sold 90 copies in the first four days and that the book now is in its third printing. She hopes to raise $1,900 for the Women’s Cancer Fund after costs.

“I really want to make a difference because a lot of people say cancer research fundraisers are scams,” she said. “I want people to know the Women’s Cancer Fund is a real thing. It works.”

Remembrance Run Director Karen Wells calls Lathrop a “soft-spoken,” “generous” and “humble” person whose determination to raise money for the fund wasn’t weakened by her own battle with cancer.

“Most women find it difficult to accept the fact that they need assistance, but it’s a very important part of the journey that they don’t compound those issues of stress as they fight cancer,” Wells said. “Bert went (to) the other extreme and started raising even more money.”

To buy a copy of the cookbook, which sells for $10, contact Lathrop at 932-3266.