Roberta DeLasantos smiles a lot when she''s talking--so much, in fact, that she comes off like the kind of person who hasn''t a care in the world. But since her breast cancer diagnosis in March 1999, DeLasantos has been through hell and back--and through six surgeries that culminated in a mastectomy.

"You can take cancer and make it a horribly negative experience, or you can choose to stay alive and find the positive in everything," she says. "Bringing community awareness is the path I need to be on."

Two years ago, when she was 37, DeLasantos found a lump on one breast and was abruptly hurled into a frightening whirlwind of tests, operations and radiation. Her cancer was so aggressive that she went to chemotherapy right away, which in turn weakened her to the point that she had to take 16 months off work. At this point, DeLasantos'' doctors give her only a 40 percent chance of being alive three years from now.

Somehow, though, DeLasantos has maintained a gallows humor throughout her ordeal. The mother of two laughs as she tells of her kindergartner drawing a family picture in which Mommy''s hair sticks out all over in little spikes, a result of her chemo. And when an unthinking friend blurted out, "It''s not like I have cancer or something," DeLasantos laughed and said, "Yeah, me neither!"

But she''s very serious when it comes to her cause, and is proving herself a skillful fundraiser. Her goal is to be the first person ever to walk in every Avon-sponsored breast cancer fundraising event, 540 miles in nine different cities, and to raise at least $20,000 for breast cancer organizations. The walks start May 9 in Washington, D.C. and end Oct. 21 in Los Angeles. So far she''s raised $6,000 and has gotten airlines--including a local Monterey charter, Million Air--to donate plane tickets for her to fly to the events. Mailboxes, Etc. donated a mailbox to collect donations, and the CEO of Community Hospital of Monterey Peninsula wrote her a personal check.

To hear DeLasantos describe her cancer-racked body is to face the terrifying legacy of a disease that attacks and sometimes disfigures one out of every eight women. In her pledge letter, DeLa- santos writes, "You look in a mirror and see a hairless, one-breasted, overweight woman looking back at you and you can hardly believe what you are seeing. You try over and over to convince yourself that it doesn''t matter and that the woman you see in the mirror is indeed as beautiful, if not more so, than before."

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Although she suffered from depression following her mastectomy, DeLasantos found that she was able to come to terms with her new self.

"I had to accept myself the way I was before I had the reconstructive surgery, and that was a great decision," she says.

Exercise has also proven to be a powerful ally in regaining her emotional and physical strength. After working a 6am-2:30pm shift, DeLasantos daily picks her kids up from school and heads for the track to start training. The kids play while she walks five miles around the track, and she usually does 16-mile walks on the weekends. And although there''s much fundraising to be done, DeLasantos is convinced the upcoming Avon walks are a sure thing.

"I didn''t come this far not to let it happen," she says confidently.

Pledges for the Avon Breast Cancer Walk may be sent care of Roberta DeLasantos, Mailboxes Etc., 1172 South Main #154, Salinas, 93901-2204.

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