By Kirby Neumann-Rea
Gorge News Report
A national honor goes to a Hood River messenger of hope.
Maria Antonia (Tona) Sanchez of White Salmon is one of 25 Yoplait Champions - ordinary women and men doing extraordinary things in their local communities to help in the fight against breast cancer.
Sanchez works with Hispanic women who have breast cancer in the Mesanjeras de Esperanza (Messengers of Hope) program through Nuestra Communidad Sana, which is part of The Next Door, Inc. social services agency.
Yoplait yogurt, Susan G. Komen for the Cure and SELF magazine jointly sponsor the Champion awards.
Together, the three organizations conducted a nationwide search last fall, asking the public to submit nominations to Yoplait.com.
"I think this (award) will be giving people more awareness of what they can do for their own help," Sanchez said.
"I have been doing this work for eight years. In the early years, there was a little resistance because no one knew about prevention of breast cancer, they were thinking when you have cancer that's it. But that's one of the main things I have to work on, to give them hope."
"One of my jobs is to work with women to learn how fight breast cancer in the early stages when it's easier to cure," Sanchez said.
Yoplait will donate $1,000 to each Champion's charity of choice focused on the breast cancer cause. In addition, the 25 Yoplait Champions will receive a personalized engraved Simon Pearce award during a special ceremony held this April in New York City.
This is the third year Yoplait hosted a nationwide search for extraordinary individuals helping in the fight against breast cancer.
"I am so pleased to announce that our very own Maria Antonia Sanchez has been named one of this year's Yoplait Breast Cancer Champions," said Janet Hamada of Nuestra Communidad Sana. "As we all know, this is well deserved. Tona has been on the front lines of breast cancer prevention and support for survivors for the past eight years. We are thrilled for her."
Sanchez said she first doubted she would receive the award.
"When I read the message that I was nominated, I thought, 'maybe I'm not going to win, it's people from all over the country'," she said.
"When they called me, I though, 'no, they asked me too many things and there will studying and researching,' and I was still thinking you know, negative, but finally when they called me and said you are one of the 25 winners I was like 'it's true'."
Sanchez will receive her award in New York City in mid-April, with two of her children -- her first visit to the Big Apple.
Hamada added, "We thank the Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital for their continual support of our breast cancer program, Mensajeras de Esperanza. Without their support, Tona could not have done this work."
Sanchez and Jeanne Fitzmaurice, Bend, were the only two honorees from the western United States.
The Champions represent 18 states and have various ties to the cause including being breast cancer survivors, advocates, as well as husbands, mothers, daughters and friends of those affected by the disease. The 25 Yoplait Champions were selected based on the following criteria:
Demonstrating a strong and sustained commitment to the breast cancer cause
Making personal sacrifices to further the cause
Taking a creative and/or innovative approach to furthering the goals of fighting breast cancer
Impacting others' lives and/or the community
Creating change(s) in their communities
For more information about the 2007 Yoplait Champions, visit www.yoplait.com [http://www.yoplait.com/
Sanchez works one-on-one with women and with a support group of survivors that currently has five participants.
"The hardest thing for us to do with the Hispanic women is to bring them to a group. They say they have their family and they have their doctor, and that helps them, and they also don't want people to know they have cancer."
Sanchez recommends women receive a clinical exam every year and do a self-examination every month, and when they are 40 or older to start mammograms. Depending on financial need, Nuestra Communidad Sana provide mammograms free for women who are 40 or older and have no insurance.