“You have cancer.”
When Traci Runge heard those paralyzing words, they sounded like a death sentence. Having no family history of cancer, it didn’t make sense. She was a healthy wife and mother to three daughters, training for a triathlon and getting ready to run Race for the Cure when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2010.
“My heart ached because I knew in my gut that it was bad. I cried for me but more importantly I cried for my three girls,” said Traci. “All I wanted to be was a mother and I was afraid I was going to die.”
In the midst of her pain and fear of the unknown, Traci made an unprecedented contribution that could aid in the scientific advancement of breast cancer research. In 2007, after a friend died of breast cancer, Traci was moved to donate a healthy breast tissue sample to the Indianapolis-based, Susan G. Komen for the Cure Tissue Bank at IU Simon Cancer Center.
Three years later, as she stood in line to pick up her packet for Race for the Cure, newly diagnosed and fearing for her own life, she realized she may be able to save lives – by donating her cancerous breast tissue before starting chemotherapy and other treatments for the disease.
“As I laid on the operating table undergoing the collection procedure, Dr. Susan Clare asked me if I had any idea what I had done today,” said Traci. “She told me I was the first person in the world to donate both healthy and cancerous tissue. It was too much for me to comprehend. At this point I am scared to death thinking cancer may take my life. All I wanted to do was save my daughters. If I was going to die, then I wanted to make sure that I did everything in my power to protect my girls, and other women so that they would not have to endure what I was about to.”
According www.komen.org breast cancer is one of the most common female cancers. This year, Nearly 200,000 women, in the United States, will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and the disease will kill nearly 40,000 women. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, states cancer overall is the second leading cause of death in the United States.
“Due to progress in research, medical technology, and advances in care, cancer is becoming more about surviving than about death,” said Sue Anne Gilroy, vice president of development and executive director of the St. Vincent Foundation. “Cancer is a very upsetting diagnosis but miracles happen every day, and the journey becomes one of hope.”
Hope, strength, courage and support are keys to navigating successfully through complex cancer treatments, while contributions to pay for pivotal care services and ground-breaking research projects are vital to unlocking the mystery of cancer.
Dianne and L.H. Bayley, longtime supporters of the St.Vincent Foundation, were instrumental in raising millions of dollars to build St. Vincent Cancer Center and Hospice. “For nearly 15 years we ran fundraising campaigns never thinking we might one day need the same facilities we worked to build,” said Dianne. “But nine years ago when our daughter Chris was diagnosed with cancer, this center became even more significant in our lives.”
Chris, who has an identical twin sister, passed away in May of 2009 after a seven-year battle with thymoma, a rare malignant tumor. But, her memory lives on through her family, her husband and two boys, and her parents who continue their fight against cancer by chairing Key to the Cure. For the fifth year, Saks Fifth Avenue has partnered with the St. Vincent Foundation hosting a gala to support St. Vincent Cancer Care programs, research and technology.
“I’m not bitter about losing my daughter, but I miss her and I think the best therapy is to do something for someone else,” said Dianne. Chris introduced her mom to swimming, gently coaxing her out of her panic and into the pool three times a week. At at the age of 69, Dianne competed in the National Senior Olympic Games. “I felt such a sense of accomplishment, but I haven’t been back in the pool since Chris passed away,” said Dianne. “I’m afraid I’d keep looking for her in the lane next to me.”
Now, she and L.H., like Traci, are driven to do whatever they can to help others navigate their journey with cancer, a disease that shoves lives drastically off course every day. Unselfish and determined, they commit to helping others, longing to see those afflicted wind their way through multiple treatments toward survivorship, and praying, that through their efforts, living with and beyond cancer might be a little easier.
“My illness has been the hardest thing to go through, but it has been full of blessings. Friends, neighbors, and my daughters’ classmates’ parents have made meals, cleaned my home, taken my daughters to practices and games, and prayed for my family. We are very fortunate to live in such a caring community,” said Traci. “Now it’s my turn to give to others!!! And, she’s spreading her spirit of giving to other family members.
The last weekend in September, Traci’s mother, sister, cousin and great aunt all donated specimens during a tissue collection drive. “Since I had no family history of breast cancer, it was important for my family to help,” said Traci. “By donating their tissue, researchers can now compare my relatives’ samples to mine, and have a better understanding as to why I got cancer and what changed in my tissue.”
Cancer does not discriminate, affecting all types of people and the somber diagnosis involves the entire family. Celebrating their 19th wedding anniversary this month, Traci appreciates her husband Dan Runge. “He was very supportive throughout it all and continues to be with my role in the Super Cure.” As the inspiration behind the partnership between the Super Bowl Host Committee and Komen Tissue Bank, Traci is the spokeswoman promoting the goal to use the Super Bowl’s global stage to raise money to boost the tissue bank’s capacity and increase the number of donors from diverse populations to better balance the inventory of tissue samples for researchers.
“I am enjoying the things that I once thought were hectic. Cheer practice, tumbling practice, gymnastics, ball games and the comings and goings of three very active girls are now blessings, and I will never take it for granted because I know how close I came to losing it all.”
Traci, who had a double mastectomy, openly shares her story and with a slight victory smile announces she is in remission. Soon, she will be undergoing reconstructive surgery. On November 5th, the tissue bank will hold a collection drive at Indiana University where her daughter is a freshman. “When my oldest daughter Hannah donates her tissue in November, they will have 4 generations. What a gift to science!”
Susan G. Komen for the Cure Tissue Bank
1001 W. 10th Street, Room OPE 334
Indianapolis, Indiana 46202
Breast Tissue Donation Event:
Saturday, November 5, 2011, IU Bloomington, IN
To donate tissue individuals must:
- Be female 18 years or older
- Have the ability to understand and the willingness to sign an informed consent
- Be willing to give a few hours of their time to complete a questionnaire and a breast biopsy
- Not be allergic to local anesthetics (numbing medicine)
- Not be receiving a therapeutic blood thinner (not including aspirin.)
- Not have breast implants or have had a breast reduction
At the Tissue Bank our most valuable specimens are healthy breast tissue. This tissue is obtained with a breast biopsy. A biopsy (sample of tissue) is taken from one breast. This is done with a needle and local anesthesia (medicine to numb the skin of breast where the biopsy sample is taken) is given. The amount of tissue taken during the biopsy is about one gram, the size of 2 peas.
Event Chairpersons: L.H. and Dianne Bayley
& Dr. Richard and Kelly Freeman
WHEN: Saturday, October 15, 2011
WHERE: Saks Fifth Avenue, Keystone at the Crossing
TIME: 6:30-11:30 pm
Cocktails, Seated Dinner, Fashion Show, Live Auction and Dancing!
PRICE: $250 individual tickets (max. purchase of 4); $5,000 table for 10 guests.
To learn more about St.Vincent Cancer Care: www.ourfightagainstcancer.org.