The morning of the 2010 Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure, Lauren Sterling Perlman had lost her hair from chemotherapy and woke up sick, but she was determined to run.
She got there late because of the sickness, and as she ran her nose began to bleed.
But not only did she finish the 5K, she was the first survivor to make it over the finish line that day.
Diagnosed with breast cancer at age 35, she fought the disease for more than a decade. On Dec. 4, Perlman lost that fight. She was 45.
Sterling, a third generation Miamian, grew up loving sports. Her father was a coach and she played soccer, baseball, football and ran with her two brothers. She later became a cheerleader and graduated from Miami Palmetto High School, class of ’85.
She moved to Gainesville to attend the University of Florida, where she double majored in speech communication and finance. It was during this time that she met her husband of 19 years, Jonathan Perlman.
“For me it was love at first sight,” said Perlman, then a law student at UF. “For her, it took her a couple more years.”
She graduated in 1989 and moved back to Miami. She continued to enjoy sports and regularly attended Miami Heat games.
While raising their two children, the Perlmans enjoyed going out on their boat, scuba diving and skiing.
In her professional life, Perlman earned an MBA in finance from the University of Miami, and traveled up the ranks in management positions at companies including Southeast Bank. She worked as a senior financial analyst at Ryder Corporation’s Logistics Division and later joined American Bankers Insurance Group (now Assurant Group) as vice president of corporate finance.
But after her diagnosis, her focus shifted to helping other young women who were living in the same situation. She spoke to women one-on-one or in a large audience encouraging them to get tested.
“I am here to communicate to you, not as a doctor, not as a part of an organization, but as a normal woman whose life changed when she heard the words ‘You have cancer,’” Perlman said at a Cancer Link Breast Cancer Education day at UM/Sylvester in 2006. “Life after breast cancer can, and must, be fulfilling. Surviving is not enough.”
While receiving chemotherapy, Sterling Perlman decided to home school her daughter and spend as much time with her as possible.
“Throughout her treatment, she was more concerned about her children’s homework than about her own progress,” said longtime friend Laurie Flink. “She had determination and a will, she never gave up — a lesson she wanted to teach her children and all those around.”
Despite her struggles, she never stopped smiling and she never stopped running. She ran before every chemotherapy session, including her last. When her sickness didn’t allow her to go out for a run, she got a treadmill at home, and when that was too much, she walked around her house, even with portable oxygen.
“There is no getting ‘back to normal;’ I am beyond what I used to be,” Perlman said in an interview with Quest Magazine. “I am a more compassionate person and just a better human being.”
In addition to her husband, Sterling Perlman is survived by her children, Zachary and Lindsey Perlman; her mother, Nancy Sterling; and her brothers Lee Sterling and Craig Sterling.
Donations in her name can be made to Dana Farber Cancer Center in Boston or Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.