Irvine teacher's uphill battle against breast cancer
Irvine teacher's 'Climb Against the Odds'
Venado Middle School teacher Lori Fallace is not a hiker, but she's recently added mountain climbing to her personal curriculum.
In June, the Irvine Unified Teacher of the Year and breast cancer survivor will summit Mt. Shasta to raise money for the Breast Cancer Fund and breast cancer prevention in the Climb Against the Odds. She hopes to raise $14,179, a dollar for every foot of elevation on the mountain.
Fallace was always a healthy woman. She exercises and eats well, and has had a lifelong fascination with the human body – she wrote the middle and high school health curriculum for the district.
So when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 with no family history and none of the indicator genes, she questioned why.
The light bulb came on when she discovered the link between breast cancer and the environment, and the preventive measures that can be taken to avoid what her integrative medicine doctor called the "perfect toxic milieu" she created in her body.
After reading the Breast Cancer Fund's report on the link between chemicals in everyday environments and breast cancer, the 54-year old Fallace saw the big picture.
"I've become sharply aware of what I touch, breathe, and eat," said Fallace, a speaker for the fund. "There are things we can do that are within our control."
Fallace described the past few years as a metamorphosis.
For years she used lead dishes because a salesman told her they were safe, despite the Proposition 64 warning labels, she said. She dyed her hair, used Raid and bleach freely in her home, and slathered creams on every wrinkle without reading a label.
Now she asks questions about the products she consumes and surrounds herself with – furniture, food, cosmetics, cleaning supplies. She prefers American-made products because there is more information about what goes into them. She buys organic, and uses safe cosmetics and cleaning products.
The transition seems overwhelming at first, she said, but encourages people to take it one thing at a time. For example, when a product runs out, read grocery labels and search for a healthier alternative, she said.
"It's time that both women and men become aware of their environment and the impact that it plays on our health. I've never been an environmentalist, but now I'm acutely aware of the role environment plays on one's health," she said.
In the classroom, Fallace, a health sciences teacher, makes sure to open the windows when she annually shows her students the lungs preserved in formaldehyde, and encourages them to use safe plastics, read labels and to understand the effect the environment has on the body.
Most don't know about her climb yet, but she'll give them a brief geography lesson on Mt. Shasta in the coming months. All the attention makes her nervous, almost more so than the climb itself.
"Now I really have to succeed," she laughed.
But the cause is so important to her, and participating in the Climb Against the Odds is a way to illustrate that passion to friends and family.
For the past few months, Fallace, Bill, her husband of 30 years, and their bullmastiff Gertie have been hitting the trails, including the Bolsa Chica wetlands, Laguna Ridge Trail, Devil's Chair in the San Gabriel Mountains, and Reyes Peak north of Ojai. Soon, they'll take on Mount Baldy.
Bill Fallace said his wife is picking up hiking pretty quickly. They're taking on five-to-six-hour treks and as part of her training regimen, she's carrying close to 30 pounds.
"She does understand what she bit off here," he said. "When you put 25 pounds on your back; that's a lot of weight. It's really impressive. She's able to keep going and push through."
While Fallace summits Shasta this summer, her husband and Gertie will likely be at the base camp, as close as they can be to all the action.
"The cure is not pleasant, prevention is definitely the way to go," said Bill, a cancer survivor himself.
Despite her nerves, Fallace is excited about the climb. It will still be dark when the trek begins, and it will be hours of quiet climbing uphill with a team of five other headlights pointing the same way.
"Just when you think you can't do it, you've got someone behind you and in front of you that's helping," she said. "Almost like what it took to get through breast cancer treatment."