Walking into the war on breast cancer

May 7, 2001

Physicians who've seen a close relative suffer from this devastating disease are putting on their hiking boots—to raise awareness and money.

 

A Medical Economics Web Exclusive

Walking into the war on breast cancer

By Doreen Mangan
Senior Editor

Physicians who’ve watched a close relative suffer from this devastating disease are putting on their hiking boots–to raise awareness and money.

When breast cancer strikes someone in the family, doctors feel like everyone else in this situation: helpless. "I was devastated when my sister, Ann, was diagnosed in January 1998," says Diane P. Palladino, a Huntington Valley, PA, breast cancer surgeon. "I was used to dealing with the disease, but this was different. I was afraid for her; I knew too much."

While other doctors treated her sister, Palladino chose another way to fight the disease. She signed up for a three-day, 60-mile walk from Santa Barbara to Malibu, CA, to raise money for breast cancer awareness programs and research. "I thought it would help others with breast cancer to know physicians were interested in their plight, and not just from a professional standpoint."

Palladino also encouraged her sister, who had just finished chemotherapy, to participate as a crew member. "I knew she’d meet breast cancer survivors who were healthy and fit."

The walk, sponsored by cosmetics company Avon, netted $5 million and has become an established event in nine US cities, attracting many repeat participants. Palladino is one of them. Last October, she joined thousands of other trekkers, including dozens of physicians, on Bear Mountain, 60 miles north of New York City, for another three-day journey that ended in Manhattan. Her sister, in good health, again served as a crew member.

David M. Epstein participated, too. The Wilmington, DE, pediatrician and veteran of the 1999 event is no stranger to cancer in the family. His 69-year-old mother is a 20-year breast cancer survivor and was diagnosed with ovarian cancer five years ago.

Epstein, his parents, and two brothers took part in the October event, inspired by the goal of funding outreach programs for underserved women. "As a family, we try to live by the Jewish principle tikkun olam, ‘repair the world,’ " he says. "My parents instilled in us the idea that we are all here not only to enjoy our own lives but to take care of the world around us."

So for three days, Epstein left behind the ordered life of office and hospital to serve on the medical staff for the walk, dealing with blisters, dehydration, and sore muscles. "We worked in tents with poor lighting, limited electricity, minimal record-keeping, no lab access, and few supplies," Epstein recalls. "It was very different from working in a hospital. We had to budget our supplies. If we ran out, it took six or eight hours to get more. We hung IVs on clotheslines and shower hooks."

The physicians soon forgot the inconveniences amid their growing admiration for the breast cancer patients among the hikers. "Instead of feeling helpless, they’re using this event to help others," Epstein says. "One young woman, a breast cancer patient in her early 20s, impressed all of us. She had gone on the walk last year, even though she was in no shape to be out there, medically speaking. She wound up in the medical tent every day, and by the third day was in tears because the doctors wouldn’t let her continue. This year, she came back and did it on crutches. She had some injuries but told us to ‘Fix it so I can keep moving.’ I understand what she was trying to do; it was an expression of empowerment."

The other physicians and nurses who volunteered for the event also impressed Epstein. He found the presence of ER physician Christine Hashimoto of Sedalia, CO, especially reassuring. A medical school classmate of Palladino’s, Hashimoto wanted to walk but had a gimpy ankle. So she spent three days lancing more blisters than she’d ever seen before.

Anger about the disease motivated Michele I. Gliksman who, as an ob/gyn, sees many patients with breast cancer. "I got tired of giving women the bad news and sending them for treatment," she says. "I wanted to do something else." Gliksman, of Fairlawn, NJ, trained hard for the event. "I got up every day about 5 a.m. and walked for an hour or two," she recalls. She fit in longer walks–up to 18 miles–on weekends, to get ready for the event’s 20- to 22-mile days. "I carefully planned my training route around public bathrooms–in supermarkets, shops, the local Marriott, a McDonald’s."

Gliksman’s walking paid off with more than $3,000 in donations. The event eventually raised $7.5 million, thanks to its 3,000 participants.

As arduous as the walking was, Gliksman found sleeping two nights in a tent more difficult. "You’re trying to sleep, but you can’t because you can hear your neighbors laughing, talking, or snoring." Her most memorable experience was meeting a 38-year-old woman who not only had breast cancer but had survived lung and ovarian cancer. "She had a great outlook on life and gave me a big hug goodbye. She made me feel good."

Check these Web sites for information on breast-cancer awareness programs and activities

www.avoncrusade.com (The Avon Breast Cancer Crusade)

www.nabco.org (National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations)

www.nbcam.org (National Breast Cancer Awareness Month)

www.y-me.org (Y-ME National Breast Cancer Organization)

www.breastcancerinfo.com (Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation)

 



Doreen Mangan. Walking into the war on breast cancer.

Medical Economics

2001;9.