Honoring the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Lifetime Commitment Circle, as told by Burt L. 

In June 2018, we brought together participants who have shown leadership in fundraising and team development with Susan G. Komen’s mission team and Scientific Advisory Board for an inspiring appreciation and mission-focused event at Komen headquarters. We not only celebrate this group of participants, but all of our participants as the 3-Day is forever emblazoned on the wall at Komen headquarters. This wall will be replicated this year on all of our 3-Day events. If you’re a registered 3-Day participant, learn more about the Lifetime Commitment Circle here. We’re thrilled to share more about the Lifetime Commitment Circle experience by fellow Michigan and Dallas/Fort Worth walker, Burt Lipshie (now in his 15th year participating and 28th and 29th events).

What a weekend! Together with some 40 other people from around the country — including two from Alaska — I was flown to Dallas to participate in a “celebration” for those of us 3-Day walkers who have, over their lifetimes, raised more than $100,000 in the fight against breast cancer (one of the Alaskans is the all-time champion, with more than $400,000 raised). It was an unforgettable couple of days.

After checking in to our hotel, we gathered at Komen headquarters for dinner, and a talk by, and with, Komen’s CEO, Paula Schneider. Her focus, despite the strides and advances being made in this struggle, was on how much we still have to accomplish. There are 154,000 women in the United States today living with metastatic breast cancer (and we cannot forget — the widow of one of our lost walkers reminded us — about the number of men, as well). And we saw a film clip of an interview with one of them, a 39-year old mother of two, made last fall, that left us all teary-eyed — even before Paula told us that she lost her fight in March. And she was not alone. We still, again just in the United States, lose 40,000 women (and some 500 men) each year to breast cancer. The bold goal that Komen announced last year is to cut the number of deaths in half by 2026.

Susan G. Komen CEO Paula Schneider

On a lighter note, earlier in the week, one of the group circulated an email asking, “Who’s up for meeting at 5 am in the hotel lobby for a little training walk Friday morning. Seems fitting for this amazing group to walk together.” And, so, some 13 of us got up before dawn on Friday to do about 2 1/2 miles together, talking and laughing, before Friday’s programming. I’ve attached a picture of the group.

Then back to headquarters to spend the morning with Komen’s Scientific Advisory Board. These are some of the top folks in the breast oncology field who, among other things, guide Komen on making research grants. One of the members of the Board is not a doctor of medicine at all. She is a Doctor of Psychology, a therapist, and a 35-year breast cancer survivor. Her role on the Board is to be a patient advocate. Indeed, we learned, there must be a patient advocate on every team that Komen funds.

After our talk with the scientists, we had one of the powerful highlights of the event. The agenda called it simply an “Office Tour.” It was much, much, more. We piled into elevators to go from our large conference room up to the Komen offices. As each elevator door opened, we were greeted by a roar of cheering. All of the Komen employees were lined up on either side of a long hallway, cheering and waving pink pompoms.

And that wonderful moment led to the end of the hall, where, on a long wall, all of our names were inscribed. We all stood and gaped. We cried. We took a million pictures. No one wanted that moment to end.

But, somewhat behind schedule, we needed to go back downstairs, for a meeting with the heads of Komen’s various sections — Public Policy and Advocacy, Community and Network, Health Equity Initiatives, and Education and Patient Support. There are important things being done besides the scientific research.

The advocacy team is working on obtaining more federal funding for breast cancer research through the NIH and CDC. And, a big issue is insurance coverage and access to clinical trials. The various Komen local Affiliates provide more than $23,000,000 in grants each year, dealing with local issues, including the Treatment Assistance Programs. Komen’s recent 3-Day fundraising goal for the Treatment Assistance Program was $500,000. It raised some $650,000.

One of the major focuses going forward is the Health Equity Initiative. The death rate among African-American women diagnosed with breast cancer is 40% higher than white women. The rate of triple negative breast cancer — one of the most aggressive and deadliest — is dramatically higher in the African-American community. Why? Research is being done on whether there is a genetic cause, and if so, how to combat it. But, also, the statistics show that African-American women get diagnosed later, when the risk of death is greater, as is the cost of treatment.

Sadly, by Friday afternoon, the celebration had to end. With promises to each other to keep in touch, the group slowly dispersed. Many back to the airport. Lucky me, since I was down there, I got to spend some quality time with my Texas cousins, who are the reason I got involved with the 3-Day after we lost their mother Judy (my cousin) to breast cancer.

Now I am back. And more energized than ever. We have accomplished so much. There is still so much to do. The monster must be slain.

I hope you all know that I know that while it is my name on the wall at Komen headquarters, the honors belong to all of you who have walked, crewed and supported so many of us. Together we have gotten this far. I know we will not stop now.”

Thank you, Burt, for your vivid and poignant recollection of the honoring of our Lifetime Commitment Circle and for sharing it with the whole 3-Day community. Please join us in honoring and recognizing our Lifetime Commitment Circle members and all of our participants and crew members for their passion, dedication, and commitment to Susan G. Komen. We are proud to work alongside you in our fight to end breast cancer forever. Please visit the 3-Day Lifetime Commitment Circle replica wall while you are on-site at the 3-Day events in 2018.

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