GW Breast Care Center Annual Luncheon Supports Breast Cancer Survivors
Women in pink scarves, hats, and jackets filed into the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, Oct. 24. They registered and received nametags, but few needed them; they were at home. As they entered the reception hall faces lit up and hugs were given freely as old friends reunited. They were amongst fellow breast cancer survivors at the GW Breast Care Center Annual Luncheon.
The annual celebration, organized by the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), provides an opportunity for former and current patients of the GW Breast Care Center to support and strengthen one another. The patients often know each other from their days of chemotherapy and grim diagnoses. Many women, like three-time breast cancer survivor Deborah Thomas, return year after year.
“We are always so happy to see each other doing well,” said Thomas. “We are here to give each other support.”
Annie Beatty, whose breast cancer has been in remission for one year, attended the luncheon for the first time. She plans to go again next year, and the year after, as well.
“Since I’ve arrived, I’ve been meeting a lot of new people. It’s nice to ask questions, since many of the people here have been through it all before,” said Beatty. “These are questions only people who have gone through it can answer. It’s interesting to see how different, or exactly the same, their story is to your story.”
As the women were seated for lunch in the chandelier-filled ballroom, a slideshow played with photos from luncheons past. Former patients planned the first luncheon. As the luncheon grew from a simple gathering to a full-fledged event, the SMHS Development office soon began booking larger and larger venues. Three hundred and twenty people attended this year’s luncheon.
Andrea Roane, weekday morning anchor on WUSA-9 news, kicked off the event. Known for her coverage of breast cancer issues, Roane said that Washington, D.C. has one of the highest mortality rates for breast cancer in the country. She thanked GW for its steady commitment to supporting women with breast cancer and working to change this statistic.
Anita McSwain, M.D., assistant professor of surgery at SMHS and breast surgeon at the GW Breast Care Center, led the attendees in the annual survivor’s toast. One by one, women stood up as one-, two-, five-, 10-, 15-, and 20-year survivors raised their glasses to each other. The women scanned the room and beamed as each milestone was called out. They were in a room full of women who understood exactly what they have experienced.
Next, Rachel Brem, M.D., director of Breast Imaging and Intervention and the vice chair of Radiology at SMHS, spoke about her passion for medicine and her decision to specialize in breast cancer diagnosis. Brem revealed that while testing different breast imaging machines for the Breast Imaging Center, she uncovered her own breast cancer.
“Those of us in it, we have an intimacy,” said Brem. “We know something about each other nobody else can understand.”
Cara Scharf, a singer and a breast cancer survivor, took the stage to tell of her journey after being diagnosed with breast cancer in March, 2011. She spoke of her mother, who died of breast cancer when she was just three years old, and the reverence she feels for those who did not have the chance to call themselves breast cancer survivors. Music, she said, helped her face her fears during difficult moments – and concluded by singing “You Walk With Me” from the Broadway musical The Full Monty. “Over the hilltop, down in the valley,” she sang. “Never alone, for you walk with me.”
As the women finished their lunches and trickled outside with those whom they had shared their best and worst moments, they felt anything but alone.
The Breast Care Center would like to thank its sponsors for the 2012 luncheon whose generosity helps to benefit the center's patient assistance fund. Many thanks to The Cyrus and Myrtle Katzen Cancer Research Center, The GW Cancer Institute, and Genomic Health, Inc..
Special thanks also goes to Georgetown Cupcake for its generous donation of 350 cupcakes for this event.