My Connection to Breast Cancer: The Free T-Shirts
Wahoo! Another Free T-Shirt!!!
I sometimes get asked what my connection to breast cancer is, and I have to answer with a bit of a story because I connect in so many ways. I completed my Family Practice medical residency and moved to Dallas in 1992. I was a young doctor with boundless energy and entered into a random 5K run to get some exercise and to get a free T-shirt. That 5K was the Dallas Race For The Cure and I was impressed with the incredible organizational skills of the race and marveled at the fact that it was an event put together by women for women. Medicine then was still predominately a man's profession and I was quite intrigued with this classy, efficient, smart, strong, confident women's organization in healthcare. At that time the 5-year survival rate for breast cancer was only 75% and the 5-year disease-free statistics were even worse. Breast cancer threatened the very life of every woman I diagnosed with it, and I counseled each one to update her Will before starting treatment. That 5K culminated in a Survivor's March of women walking arm in arm *celebrating* their successive years of life since being treated for breast cancer. Their triumph, resolve, and joy permeated me... body, mind, and spirit...and I stood there with tears streaming down my face. I heard Nancy Brinker assert that the mission of the Susan G. Komen Foundation was to eradicate breast cancer as a life-threatening disease in our lifetime. I'm not sure I truly believed it could be accomplished, but I knew I wanted to ride that wave of vision and determination!
So it was a free T-shirt and a great business model that got me interested in breast cancer initially. I had lost my own mother to colon cancer when she was 47 years old and I was 21. I quietly and discreetly gravitated toward older women who could mentor me personally and professionally. Two Race Chairs, Sue Ann Gilman and Ellen Hughes, helped introduce me to the Komen Foundation. I couldn't remember who was who so I nicknamed them "Sue Ellen." I learned how to conduct a business meeting, I learned how to be assertive without being "bitchy", I learned how to manage business finances, and I learned a lot about breast cancer and about it's impact on the women's and men's lives it affects. I learned from Karee Sampson and others that some parts of the organization need to be operated like a battleship ready for combat, yet other aspects need to be operated like a cruise ship setting sail for vacation. None of those things had been taught in medical school. It made me a better doctor, a better business woman, and a better person.
I do have a family history of breast cancer in 2 aunts. When I was young my Aunt Evelyn let me and my twin sister throw her breast prosthesis like a bean bag toy. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in her 30's, had a radical mastectomy, but passed away in her 80's of other causes. My Aunt Gin was diagnosed in 1990 and was a proud 27 year survivor when she passed away at age 90 also of other causes. I have had countless patients and friends affected by breast cancer, each of which has touched me in a special way. Now I am captain of a 3-Day team called STEPS (Screening, Treatment, and Education Programs). I have walked and/or been medical crew for 28 3-Day events. I am a staunch advocate for those affected by breast cancer and have donated to the Susan G Komen Foundation for 30 years. I don’t always agree with Komen Headquarters about some of their policies, but my support of the science and life-saving research has not wavered. Sometimes I get lazy, or arrogant, or complacent about my commitment. Then I turn to my team and other pink family and I am inspired. I see my teammates train through blisters, heat, and with burdened hearts from being in treatment or loved ones being in treatment. At the end of the 3-Day 60 mile walk they give you a free T-shirt. So I guess that's my connection to breast cancer... the free T-shirts.