Breast Cancer Survivors, Uncategorized

Survivors: Hear Them Roar! – Or Don’t

Here’s a great perk:  Sometimes people actually congratulate me for working at Komen!

Pretty often, however, I get what is obviously a deeper, more serious reaction. It can happen anywhere, anytime.  Last week I was sitting at my hair salon and got into a conversation with a woman next to me. (You tend to have your inhibitions down when you are waiting for the color to soak in…) She asked what I do and then was pretty quiet after I told her

I recognize this now and have come to appreciate that righfully, everyone has their own way of dealing with cancer  — even well after the fact. Still, I have found that breast cancer Survivors tend to fall into 2 groups, both extremely inspiring and motivating, and both very much supporters of our cause.

Some can be described as fierce warriors in the fight against breast cancer, and this group wears that battle on their sleeves.  These wonderful people know that their story can change lives – that telling it will possibly educate or remind people about preventative measures, or that raising money will have a deep impact in our community.

One of our active volunteers has worn some sort of pink clothing every single day for the last 17 years –  since she was diagnosed.  That’s a determined fighter right there!  She obviously has a story and if asked, she’ll tell.

In the other group are people similar to my hair salon friend.  At first, they seem to soak in the idea of what I do for a living and want to look away.  I get it. There is a feeling of “that awful part of my life is behind me and I don’t want to revisit it.”   Boy, do I appreciate that sentiment.  They fought hard not to let cancer define them when they were sick, and they darn well won’t let it now.

Yet, 3 minutes after she asked me, I knew her story.  She was diagnosed before age 40. She fought invitations to join the Race for the Cure or other breast cancer events because she didn’t want to be “that person.” She didn’t want to wear pink and she didn’t want to be labeled. But then her friends talked her into it.

As she spoke of the Race experience and how wonderful it was, she broke down a bit. “I guess I did it to show my kids that I could,” she said through tears.  “And I’m glad I did.”

All types of Survivors and their co-Survivors join us in our mission to end breast cancer – some vocally, some in other ways. We are very grateful for them all.

A New Year

One Loss Is Too Many

Let’s get this out of the way first:  I don’t wear pink every day.

It’s amazing how many people ask about my wardrobe. Yes, there is a lot of pink in my closet now, and I do wear it. But since it’s so prevalent in my life I tend to use it only on the days that I am making a public appearance or presentation on behalf Susan G. Komen® Western New York. Of course, as Executive Director, there are a lot of those days! And that’s just fine.

After 18 months in this role, I am so moved by the opportunity I’m given every day to be a part of a grassroots battle against breast cancer that I thought I would share some of the incredible Komen experiences in a blog – in the hopes that we can all learn and be in the fight together.  With “In the Pink,”  I aim to keep the posts centered on some personal and institutional lessons learned, challenges surmounted, inspirations acquired, and the personalities at the root of these stories.

The timing seems right – it’s a new year, and a time when many individuals and organizations reflect on the highs and the lows of the past 12 months. I imagine that in every office there are major ups and downs. Not every workplace, however, is a cancer organization. Our highs and lows, are not always your average “we surpassed our quotas” or “our colleague left for another job” kinds of highs and lows. We do have those, of course, but when I started reflecting on the year, I ended up with this (copied, verbatim, from my notes):

2015: We raised money, we collaborated, we advocated, we changed a lot, we were as confused as you, we saved lives … we lost one.

I didn’t plan to share my notes, but there they are.   A quick explanation: At Komen WNY in 2015, we did a decent job raising money (of course, there’s never enough to cover the needs); we played a role in some state and federal legislative victories; we moved some fund-raising events, ended some, started new ones; we tried to make sense of and guide people through complicated new guidelines for breast cancer screenings; we led educational events; we funded life-saving programs; and we participated in community health-care coalitions.

I can only speak for myself, but I believe everyone involved in all of these accomplishments — board members, volunteers, donors, supporters and staff – are incredibly proud of the work we do, and the year we have had.

But we lost one.  We lost a special one.

Prudence C. Philbin, 43, passed away from breast cancer in September. Prue was the wife of Komen WNY Board Member Scott Philbin, mother of Sean and Tessa, and a partner at a local law firm.  Prue – that’s her and her kids in the photo above – was a friend to Komen WNY. She devoted time and energy to be our top fund-raiser, raising over $9,000 for last June’s Race for the Cure.  Prue and Scott offered much of themselves to the Komen cause, even with so much on their plates.

The devastation of this loss can’t be described. The grace and strength with which Prudence and Scott lived through Prue’s final months were so finely honed that only they and their closest friends and family knew that death was imminent. We did not.

Our work to fight breast cancer – the power of pink — has been so successful over the last 33 years since Komen was founded that many don’t expect death to come to someone so filled with life. But breast cancer kills. Of all people, I know this. I know the statistics by heart. Breast. Cancer. Kills. But still, we don’t expect it.

I’ve had close friends and family go through horrible battles with breast cancer; that’s one reason I do this for a living. But what we do at Komen and what we need to do more and better has never been clearer to me, and to all of Komen WNY.

Prue’s loss is our battle. Scott, Sean and Tessa are my motivation every day – as are the incredible Survivors and other volunteers I am privileged to have on the Komen battlefield with me. From where I sit there is much to learn, and much to do.

My hope is that I can share a little bit of our daily fight through this blog, so as the highs and lows come and go in 2016, we are learning from them together and fighting for a day when we don’t lose one  more life to breast cancer.