Monday, January 30, 2012

A piece of me

I am overwhelmed.

On Sunday I donated a small sample of breast tissue to the Susan B. Komen for the Cure Tissue Bank. I was one of 700 women who gave over a two-day donation event. If all goes according to plan, researchers from all over the world will have access to these tissue samples as they search for a cure.

The process itself was a cake walk. Frankly, the hardest part was getting on the scale. The procedure is the similar to what my dear friends have endured when they underwent a core biopsy to check for cancer cells. The doctor comes in, numbs the area and uses a hollow needle to remove a breast tissue sample. I tried to convince him to remove a little from my waist and butt, but he just laughed. Maybe he's heard that before.

Along the way, I crossed paths with numerous volunteers. I was lucky enough to have more than a passing conversation with a few of the volunteers. My phlebotomist is a survivor of inflammatory breast cancer who now runs a foundation that raises money for research and patient education. My nurse has a sister-in-law who is fighting breast cancer. My surgeon came from Illinois to volunteer his time. I even had a quick conversation with Connie Rufenbarger, the woman who was there from the beginning.

"You started this, didn't you," I asked when I recognized her name on her nametag.

She brushed off the comment. If it were up to her and only her, the idea might have stayed an idea, she claimed. Give credit to the other people who took the idea and ran with it, she said.

I think she was being modest.

This doesn't happen by accident. Connie told me that each donation event costs a couple million dollars. Much of it is raised through in-kind donations, but people like Connie are working to raise money for the next drive. I was privy to a few stories, but I left with the sense that each person there had a story, a motivation for participating.

My nurse said that before she left this morning, she told her husband that maybe today was the day she'd hold the cell that unlocks the mystery behind breast cancer. We know it's not that easy, that there's probably not going to be a "Eureka!" moment that makes breast cancer a diagnosis of the past. But maybe through this event and others, we're a bit closer to the cure than we were yesterday.

When this project was still in the discussion stages, a review group considered this idea and said no way, women aren't going to donate breast tissue. But 700 women stepped up on Sunday to add to the samples already in the bank, and countless others are on the wait list for the next donor event. For a few hours, I was part of a group that is focused on doing things that people said couldn't be done. And that's why I'm overwhelmed. And lucky. And grateful to those who won't stop fighting.