Defining Survivorship

GW Faculty Honor Breast Cancer Awareness at Annual Luncheon
Faculty at Annual Luncheon
June 14, 2013

Christie Teal, M.D., assistant professor of Surgery in the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) and director of the GW Breast Care Center, arrived at the Center's annual luncheon, Oct. 20, with a newly cropped hairdo. The day before was the fourth time she had cut and donated her formerly long locks to charity.

"The first time, I did it for my kids; the second time I did it for my best friend; the third time I did it for my patients; and yesterday I did it for my mom," said Teal, whose mother is a two-time breast cancer survivor. Teal and Anita McSwain, M.D., assistant professor of Surgery in SMHS, were among the featured speakers at the luncheon that is held each year during breast cancer awareness month.

But the event wasn't about Teal's hair, Teal's mom, or even Teal herself, who had recently undergone an elective double mastectomy. It was about the lives of breast cancer patients Teal and colleagues have touched throughout their careers at GW. With nearly 300 guests in attendance, including survivors, doctors, and patient navigators, the event was larger than ever before.

"You all have outgrown yourselves. You know that means? More and more survivors," cheered local television news anchor Andrea Roane, who served as the event's Master of Ceremonies.

Tracy Grant, a breast cancer survivor who produced a documentary about her experience, served as the lunch's keynote speaker. After showing clips from her film, Grant described the inspiration she drew from her family to beat cancer — a disease that also struck her mother, aunts, and grandmother.

"A survivor is a person who continues to function or prosper in spite of opposition, hardships, or setbacks," Grant read from the dictionary. Based on this definition, she said, survivors are not only those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, but also their family members, friends, and doctors.

The most important thing when facing breast cancer is attitude, Grant emphasized. "I decided I have a choice about my attitude. I could shrink with fear about the unknown, or I could fight," she said. "You didn't choose to get breast cancer, but you can make the choice to get back up and fight — no matter what the outcome."