The next time you get pulled over by a Utah State trooper, you may notice the trooper writing your citation is wearing a pink ribbon.
In fact, 400 state troopers throughout Utah are wearing pink ribbons in support of Bonnie Kunz, a fellow trooper and mother of six, who is undergoing treatment for breast cancer at the Intermountain Medical Center Breast Care Center in Murray.
“When we found out Bonnie had breast cancer, it was a shock for those of us who know her,” says the UHP’s Lt. Jeff Willmore. “Major Mike Kuehn in our department brought up the idea to our superintendent, Colonel Daniel Fuhr. He had a meeting with Bonnie to see what else we could do to help, and it was authorized for troopers to wear the ribbons on a voluntary basis throughout the rest of the year.”
As a member of the Utah Highway Patrol, Kunz works on the bike-patrol squad at Salt Lake Community College. She’s been touched by the willingness of her co-workers to support her, and the great care she’s getting at Intermountain Medical Center.
“It means a lot to have so many of my co-workers supporting me by wearing the pink ribbons,” says Kunz. “It’s hard to really put into words. If you know how strict the highway patrol is about its uniform, it’s amazing this was approved.”
In late February of this year, Kunz noticed a lump on one of her breasts about the same time she went in for her annual OB exam. The doctor couldn’t feel the lump, but still asked if Kunz would like a referral for a mammogram, and she said yes.
“I put off going in for a few months, but I finally realized I better go in,” she says. “I went into Intermountain Medical Center for a mammogram and ultrasound. Dr. Parkinson called me later that day to tell me they knew it was cancer.”
She quickly had a mastectomy on July 2, and began treatment at Intermountain Medical Center’s Breast Care Center, one of the leading centers in the country.
Brett Parkinson, MD, medical director of the Intermountain Medical Center Breast Care Center, says Kunz was fortunate to feel the lump early and to get a screening mammogram.
“What’s so unique about Bonnie is the age at which she developed breast cancer,” says Dr. Parkinson. “She’s only 39, and it’s quite uncommon to develop it under 40. However upon feeling a lump, she took the necessary steps by getting the right tests performed. We were able to find the problem, give her a diagnosis, and her treatment and recovery are going really well.”
That quick action likely saved Kunz’s life, he says.
Unfortunately, many Utah women may be confused about when to get a screening mammogram.
In 2009 the United States Services Preventative Task Force recommended women shouldn’t have regular screenings between the ages of 40 and 49. The change in recommendations confused women. New research shows that women benefit from beginning screening at age 40.
A recent study published by Harvard researchers, and current research from the Intermountain Medical Center’ Breast Care Center, shows the increasing importance and value of getting the screenings in that age range for women.
The Harvard study looked at 7,300 women, 609 of which who died of breast cancer. Seventy-one percent of those who died had not had regular screening. Fifty percent were under the age of 50.
“Bonnie’s case really underscores the need for women to be vigilant in doing monthly self exams and having a screening mammogram once they turn 40,” says Dr. Parkinson.
Prior to her cancer diagnosis, Kunz participated in many forms of physical activity. In addition to working on the bike-patrol squad, she works out, runs, and snowboards. She had also just started a cross-fit program. While at home, she spends most of her time playing with her six kids, the youngest of which is only 21 months old.
“My kids definitely keep me going, but I feel like I don’t have as much energy as I used to,” she says. “I haven’t been able to run since my surgery, and I was placed on light duty because I can’t quite give 100 percent.”
Despite the toll her treatment has taken, she is making great strides in the recovery process by walking.
“When I first started treatment, I could barely make it two houses down before I’d have to turn around and go home,” says Kunz. “Now, I can make it around several blocks. The progress is slow, but I’m getting there.”
In addition to wearing the pink ribbons, Utah Highway Patrol held a 5K run as a fundraiser for trooper Kunz, which troopers came long distances to participate.
"My fellow troopers are supporting much more than just me," she says. "I know several of their wives also have breast cancer. Regardless of why or who they wear the ribbon for, this is a wonderful cause."