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GW Breast Care Center Celebrates the Inspiration, Dedication and Commitment to Beating Breast Cancer

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 trademark 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 recently underwent an elective double mastectomy. It was about the countless lives of breast cancer patients she and other professors 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 Andrea Roane, an anchor for Channel 9 news who served as the event’s Master of Ceremonies. “This lunch is about you as you support each other every day fighting this diagnosis.”

Roane praised the work of GW’s cancer programs that span the cancer continuum from prevention to treatment to survivorship. Such programs are of particular importance in Washington, D.C., where women with cancer have a 19% higher mortality rate than the national average. The GW mammovan, for example, brings mammography services “to where the people are,” she said. Roane also thanked Safeway for its continued support of GWs’ cancer initiatives.

The lunch, which was served at the Ritz-Carlton for the first time, sparked new friendships and reignited old ones. “It’s a great event every year, but this year was just wonderful,” said Camille Rux, who was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005. Rux and several of her tablemates exchanged numbers and planned to meet again at the George Washington University Cancer Institute’s Healing with Basketball program, a monthly basketball clinic which aims to build strength and endurance in breast cancer survivors.

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 spoke about how her family inspired her to beat the disease — 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, the survivors in the crowd nodding with agreement. “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.”