Tamara Habib, 26, of Chicago, has made a career out of planning for and responding to disasters.
"Anyone who's in my field of work, whether they're a paramedic or a fireman or whether they're more of an administrative person doing coordination behind the scenes, I think that they're born with a certain calmness and a certain ability to handle rough situations," said Habib, an emergency management specialist.
Even with such ability, she said, nothing could have prepared her for the shock she received two years ago when she discovered a lump in one of her breasts.
Breast cancer in women as young as Habib is rare. The National Cancer Institute estimated that about 5 percent of the more than 200,000 new cases in the U.S. each year occurred in women younger than 40.
But raising awareness about breast cancer in younger women was one of the reasons Habib decided to take part in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer Saturday at Soldier Field. Habib said walking was a way she and her family could do something in the face of the helplessness they first felt after she was diagnosed.
"It's very hard because you're getting these treatments, but there's very little that you can feel like you're doing to counteract it," Habib said.
Helplessness was what Matt Peters, 36, of Chicago, said he felt after members of his family were diagnosed with breast cancer.
"My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in the mid-'90s," Peters said. "In 2004, we lost my mom, and then my oldest sister was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 37."
Peters, one of six children, took part in last year's Avon Walk, during which his team raised more than $35,000. In the run-up to this year's event, he said, his team has raised more than $25,000.
Money aside, Peters said raising awareness about the disease has been the key to helping him get back a little of the control he and his family have lost.
He said he hopes "somebody goes in and takes a mammogram five years before they normally would have, and they detect something that could be the difference between living and dying."
Saturday's Avon Walk marks the ninth year for the event, held in nine cities across the nation to raise awareness of the disease and money for research and health care.
More than 3,000 people are expected to take part, walking as many as 39 miles over two days, said Eloise Caggiano, Avon Walk program director. Each walker is required to raise a minimum of $1,800.
"The money that's raised by the Avon Walk helps to make sure that anybody facing a breast cancer diagnosis can get the care that they need regardless of their ability to pay," Caggiano said.
Sponsored by the Avon Foundation for Women, last year's Chicago walk raised more than $7.7 million, Caggiano said, of which most went to breast cancer treatment organizations and institutions throughout the Midwest. Since its founding in 1955, the foundation has awarded more than $47 million to health care and research facilities in the Chicago area, she said.
"At the time when I was going through my battle with breast cancer, I was very lucky," said Caggiano, who was diagnosed in 2005 at age 33. "I had great health insurance, and I never had to worry about how I was going to pay for this. I realize now that not everybody is that lucky, and there are people who don't get a mammogram because they can't afford it, or they don't go get the test done because they can't afford to miss work."
Habib is undergoing months of chemotherapy because of her cancer's aggressive nature. She said she is grateful for at least one thing.
"I've learned a lesson I think it takes people 40 or 50 years to learn, which is knowing what's really important in life," Habib said. "Being able to stay focused on that at a young age and knowing that lesson, I actually think that this experience is going to make my life a lot richer in the end."