LEWISTON, Maine — Lorena DuBois, the woman responsible for Maine and Lewiston proclaiming Oct. 13 Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day in 2008, died of the disease over the weekend.
She will be buried today, Oct. 13.
“We knew there was no better day to have her funeral,” DuBois’ 21-year-old daughter Jessica said. “That was her day.”
DuBois discovered a lump in her breast a few days before Christmas 2006. She was 43, a Lewiston wife and the mother of two teenagers. Although she’d been diligent about performing monthly self-exams, the lump was already large when she found it. By the New Year, a biopsy confirmed cancer. Shortly afterward, she had a lumpectomy.
And soon after that, DuBois learned the cancer had metastasized and spread to her bones.
It was stressful and scary, but what added unnecessary aggravation was the fact that some people thought breast cancer was no longer a deadly disease. Even friends expressed relief that DuBois had caught it, assuming she would have a few treatments and go on with her life. However, her diagnosis was more devastating than that, her prognosis not good. And she knew she wasn’t alone.
DuBois began digging through Internet sites looking for information and support from others in her situation. On one of those sites — Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Network’s mbcnetwork.org — she found a way to help. The network was promoting Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day on Oct. 13. At the time few, if any, states had adopted it. In May 2008, she wrote to Gov. John Baldacci and asked that Maine be among the first.
“There are so many activities and support groups surrounding breast cancer, but they all focus on the women who can be cured,” DuBois wrote. “There is so little attention paid to those of us living with it every day knowing we will eventually die from it. We live day to day and CT scan to CT scan waiting for the news that our latest treatment isn’t working any longer and we are running out of options.”
It got the former governor’s attention.
“I don’t think I could ever forget her letter,” Baldacci said in an email Wednesday. “It helped to open my eyes to the lingering tragedy of metastatic breast cancer. Like many families, mine has been touched by cancer. It’s such a terrible, hateful disease.”
He proclaimed Oct. 13 Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day.
Excited by the governor’s willingness to make the proclamation, DuBois approached Lewiston Mayor Larry Gilbert about a similar proclamation. He agreed.
In the years since, dozens of cities and states have made proclamations, but Maine and Lewiston were among the first. It was an honor that made DuBois proud. Every year on that day, friends and family treated DuBois to gifts and flowers, marking her day.
“She just was an inspiring person,” her daughter said. “She put others before herself, no matter what. She’s the strongest person I will ever meet, and she put up such a battle for five years.”
In recent months, the cancer took over DuBois’ liver, forcing a halt to chemotherapy. Soon, other organs shut down. She was a payroll manager at Tyler Technologies in Falmouth, but she stopped working in June.
On Sunday, DuBois died at home. She was 48.
Her family knew then they would have her funeral on Oct. 13, the day that had become hers.
“I think she would know it’s perfect,” her daughter said.
Although DuBois is gone, Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day will continue.
“While we continue to work for a cure, sometimes the best we can do is to better understand the disease and the impact it has on countless lives,” Baldacci said. “As Lorena’s family and friends mourn her death, I hope that they can take some small comfort in the fact that she helped to make Mainers more aware of this terrible disease.
“Lorena’s story has made a difference to others and she is still helping to save lives, even after her passing.”
DuBois is survived by her husband, Robert, her son, Eric, and her daughter, as well as her mother, sister and brothers.
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