Home / Indiana / Geist / Komen Director Dana Curish Passing the Torch After 10 Years of Leadership

Komen Director Dana Curish Passing the Torch After 10 Years of Leadership

Dana Curish, a 2-time breast cancer survivor and long-time executive director of Susan G. Komen of Central Indiana is retiring at the end of 2013. (Photos by Brenda Staples Photography)

Though Susan Goodman Komen fought breast cancer just as many women and even some men do, she is remembered as one who made an effort to make life better for others instead of focusing only on herself. Today Susan G. Komen represents the largest mass movement against breast cancer. Since 1982, Komen has invested $2 billion in community outreach and global research studying the causes, treatments and cures of breast cancer.

Komen Central Indiana is one of four affiliates in the state. Of the funds raised, 75 percent of proceeds stay within our community, implementing grant programs aimed in helping 30,000+ low-income Hoosiers within 21 counties. The remaining 25 percent of funds are applied to global research grants seeking specific causes, improved treatments and lifelong cures for breast cancer.

“One in eight women over the course of their lifetime will get breast cancer,” says Dana Curish, Executive Director of Susan G. Komen Central Indiana and two-time breast cancer survivor. “We want to raise money and awareness. We believe you should be proactive and catch it early when survival is the highest. Surprisingly, most that get breast cancer don’t have a family history of it.” Dana admits that her experience is very personal to her. She endured the chemo, radiation and surgery and says, “My story isn’t any different than so many other women, but I had insurance. Not everyone is as lucky as I was.”

Compassion Can Be Contagious

Born and raised as a Hoosier, Dana attended Hanover College. She studied chemistry/biology, thinking she would become a microbiologist, but fate drew her to the nonprofit world instead. She admits, “I have always had a passion for caring for those with low income.” She recalls an unforgettable moment as she was volunteering one morning with onsite registration for “Race for the Cure.” She asked a participant if she was running as a survivor, and the woman replied with tears in her eyes, “Well I thought I was, but I just found out I’m not.” She had been to the doctor the day before to learn that her cancer had metastasized. Dana felt an instant emotional letdown and gave the woman a hug, reassuring her that she would be a survivor. This incident marked a turning point in Dana’s life as she recognized the crucial timeliness for taking action, being proactive and catching the cancer before it’s too late.

Curish speaks to attendees at the Project Pink Fashion Show at Bella Vita Lakeside.

When Dana was first diagnosed, she remembers seeing a poster with four women, one of whom was fading in clarity. Its intended message was that only 74 percent of those with early diagnosis would survive beyond five years. Fortunately, she lived as part of this percentage. Unfortunately, a few years after she was appointed as the executive director for Komen, she developed cancer in her other breast which was unrelated to her first diagnosis 16 years earlier; it was discovered in the early microscopic stage. By the time she faced her second diagnosis, she was amazed at how far we’ve come because the current survival rate jumped from 74 percent to 98 percent with early diagnosis.

“My mother is the strongest, most inspirational woman I know,” says Kim Capelli, Dana’s daughter. “She has been a strong leader in her personal and work life for as long as I can remember. In our crazy, busy lives, we don’t often take time to reflect, but each and every time I walk with my children to the Race in April and look at all the signs on the backs of the walkers and runners, I can’t help but think about my amazing mother. She is a survivor in the true sense of the word. When I wear the pink ‘in celebration of’ sign on my back, I think of her beating cancer, being a strong single mom, an amazing Nana to her grandchildren and a person who anyone would be proud to call a friend and coworker.”

Dana with Joreen, Indiana’s oldest living breast cancer survivor. Next February will mark her 60th year of being cancer free.

In addition to her daughter and four grandchildren, Dana inspires others without even trying. “Dana is strategic, compassionate, congenial and never forgets to keep our mission at the forefront, whether it’s while speaking at an event, visiting with volunteers, fundraising or even just editing a newsletter,” says Elise LeBlanc, Communications and Fundraising Coordinator at Komen. “The importance of what we do stays with her all the time, and it’s a tremendous weight to carry. She has carried it for herself as a two-time breast cancer survivor, for other survivors, those going through treatment, those who lost their battles and those who haven’t yet been diagnosed but will eventually need help.”

“We were in need of a good director who could take the organization to the next level, and Dana more than filled those shoes,” says Pam Miltner, Komen volunteer of 23 years and breast cancer survivor. “Being a survivor herself, she knew firsthand how important a cure for breast cancer was, and the way to a cure was research and helping those underinsured to have a chance to survive. She knew all the emotions we as survivors were feeling, and she was there to support us all. Our group of people who have worked on Race for the Cure and served on the board over the past 20 years have become known as the Komen family. Dana came into that group and became an important part of that family. She became our leader, and she was awesome!”

Upcoming Events Dressed in Pink

During the month of October, many businesses get involved in helping raise money. Here are a few examples:

  • Yoplait – Customers can place their lids from Yoplait Yogurt containers into drop boxes. Each lid is worth a 15 cent donation.
  • White Castle – White Castle will sell ribbons for $1/piece. Last year, they raised $56,000.
  • Panera Bread – Panera will sell pink bagels in the shape of ribbons.
  • Brighton Bracelets – This company will sell a special pink ribbon bracelet to help raise money.

The annual Pink Tie Ball will take place February 22, 2014, at the Dallara IndyCar Factory. This is an elegant evening of dinner, dancing and celebrating survivors.

The Komen Central Indiana Race for the Cure is set for April 12, 2014. Started in 1992, this event has grown to an average of more than 25,000 participants. Here is the schedule for the day:

7:30 am – Pink Parade of Survivors
8:30 am – 100 Yard Kids Dash
9:00 am – Competitive 5K
9:15 am – Non-Competitive 5K Walk/Run
9:30 am – 1 Mile Family Walk

From the various vendors handing out goodies to dancing with the DJ, there is something fun for all ages to enjoy.

You Can Help Save Lives Here

“We rely on volunteers for planning our special events,” says Dana. “There are only four of us working from this office in Indy….We need volunteers for planning our events and for talking at churches and elsewhere about early screening and detection.” Also Komen offers a variety of sponsorship opportunities to fit any company’s budget.

Dana reminds us, “We’re here for two reasons: first, to make sure that everyone has access to early screening, regardless of where they live, their insurance coverage or anything, and second, to fund research so that we can find improved treatments, prevention and ultimately a cure….Essentially, we live here, we race here and we save lives here.”

Go to www.komenindy.org to become a volunteer, a sponsor or to learn more.

Facts & Stats:

  • 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed in her lifetime.
  • 90-95 percent of women diagnosed have no family history.
  • The two biggest risk factors are being a woman and getting older.
  • 2,000 men in the US will be diagnosed this year.
  • There are different types of breast cancer. Not all have a tumor.
  • It can take up to 10 years before a tumor grows large enough to feel on your own.
  • Mammograms can detect growths as small as a grain of salt.
  • You’re exposed to more radiation in a cross-country flight than in a mammogram.
  • Someone who is uninsured and diagnosed with breast cancer is 40 percent less likely to survive it.

About Janet Striebel

Janet C. Striebel is a Fishers resident and freelance writer. She and her husband, Doug, have three children: Ryan, Jessica and Justin. She has been writing for atGeist.com for more than seven years and claims that the best part is meeting all the interesting people in her community.