Zero Breast Cancer (ZBC) mourns the death of Roni Peskin Mentzer, Emeritus member of our Board of Directors, who passed away on July 3, 2013, following a long and courageous battle with breast cancer. A founding member of ZBC, known then as Marin Breast Cancer Watch (MBCW), Roni’s personal experience fueled her determination to find out why women living in Marin County had such a high incidence of the disease. Although she did not completely conquer breast cancer, she triumphed in the way that she lived throughout her illness, which included her many contributions to her community.
A New York City native and former kindergarten teacher, Roni’s career included corporate sales and interior design in the Bay Area. She was a world traveler and arts enthusiast who channeled her creative talents into fundraising events for Zero Breast Cancer and fiber arts explorations with the Plexus Arts Group. Being ill with breast cancer never deprived Roni of her curiosity, easy wit, and her capacity to be completely alive each day of her life. As recently as the spring of 2012, she danced the tango with her devoted husband Dr. William Mentzer in Buenos Aries, Argentina.
In her formative days as an activist with MBCW, Roni joined forces with fellow breast cancer survivors to demand that public officials fund increased research into the contributing factors to breast cancer, beginning with earlier life exposures and environmental influences. Roni was a member of the MBCW team of community co-investigators who, with Dr. Margaret Wrensch at UCSF, conducted groundbreaking research known as the Adolescent Risk Factors Study (ARFS) that focused on adolescence as a potential “window of susceptibility” for breast cancer. The ARFS study, published in 2003 in Breast Cancer Research, was the first community-based participatory research study to reveal population risk factors and exposures linked to breast cancer in Marin County. Roni is named as a co-author of this study.
Roni spearheaded ZBC’s first annual Honor Thy Healer awards program in 2000 to shine a light on the contributions of healing professionals, healing partners and others who make a difference in the lives of women affected by breast cancer. As of 2013, Honor Thy Healer has recognized over 100 health professionals, supportive partners, researchers, authors, health activists, entrepreneurs and public officials who play important roles in advancing our understanding of breast cancer, community action and the healing process. In 2011, Roni nominated her hiking pal and dear friend Susan Mulvey for the Healing Partner award. Their unique partnership can be viewed in this 2011 Honor Thy Healer video. ZBC will forever cherish the memory of Roni’s enthusiastic participation in the 2011 Honor Thy Healer awards celebration.
Although breast cancer is a serious issue, Roni believed in having fun and making the most of her precious life and time with her friends and family between cancer treatment and recovery. When Roni’s cancer returned in 2009, her fellow artists in the Plexus Arts Group created a collection of 38 unique fiber arts hats that expressed their own creativity and support for their friend. Thanks to the generous gift from Steve and Britt Thal, these hats, each exquisite art pieces, are displayed permanently at the ZBC office and are loaned out to women’s health events and for local and traveling arts exhibits. The Zero Breast Cancer-Plexus Hats also appear in the 2012 Academy award nominated short documentary Mondays at Racine.
According to Janice Barlow, ZBC executive director, “Roni appreciated both the comedy and the tragedy her particular cancer and knew that her life would be shortened, yet she maintained her sense of style and a desire to be with people and do the things that she enjoyed, including staying in touch with us. Our Board of Directors has established the Roni Peskin Mentzer Memorial Fund to continue with the prevention work that Roni and our founding board members envisioned. We are grateful that her family has named Zero Breast Cancer as one of two organizations to receive donations in honor of our longtime friend."