Male Breast Cancer: Rare but Real. Meet the Gillers.

Lee and Kathy Giller have been married for 35 years, making their home in Akron, Ohio. Lee and Kathy’s story is similar to many in our 3-Day community: a strong, loving partnership, an inspirational fight, and a family forever changed by a breast cancer diagnosis. However, there’s one unusual twist to this story. It’s not Kathy who has breast cancer—it’s Lee.

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“Lee was first diagnosed in 2005 after feeling a small lump in his breast. Even though we knew men could face breast cancer, it didn’t occur to either of us that this is what he might have. In fact, he first went to a dermatologist thinking the lump was just a cyst,” said Kathy. “The day Lee came home and told us that he had breast cancer, we and our children just huddled in embrace and cried. Cancer is still such a frightening word and is fraught with so many dark thoughts. But once we got past the initial shock and fear, we circled our wagons and began the fight of our lives.”

Like many who face the same diagnosis, Lee had a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. As Lee was finishing up his treatments, his daughter Pamela asked if he wanted to join her for a breast cancer walk. “At first, I was a little offended that Pam didn’t ask if I wanted to participate with them,” said Kathy. “But then she explained that the walk was 60 miles and you camped out and I knew why I wasn’t included! This was something far out of my realm. But it didn’t take me long to decide that if Lee could go through everything he had faced, then I should be able to walk 60 miles and even camp out.”

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While the thought of walking and camping were daunting for Kathy, she was most concerned about the fundraising. It’s no secret that at the 3-Day, we ask you to raise $2,300, an ambitious but reachable goal, and an amount that makes a huge impact in the fight against breast cancer. Luckily, Kathy said that fundraising was the easiest part, thanks to the generosity of family and friends. “We’re often asked how we raise so much money and the answer I always give is that like breast cancer, I’m relentless. I ask everyone, I’m persistent, and I always express our heartfelt gratitude. Fundraising is nothing more than a conversation, sharing your personal story. If you are compelling and sincere, people will respond.”

Just six months after Lee finished treatment, team Breast Man Walking walked 60 miles in the Boston 3-Day, using the slogan “Male breast cancer: Rare but Real” to spread awareness with every step. The Gillers have been walking since 2006: with family, their children, Pamela, Annie, and Jay, and a dear friend, Nancy Schrader, whom they met when she was walking on the 3-Day solo.

The Gillers registered for the 2016 San Diego 3-Day, which would mark their 19th walk, but unfortunately, the Gillers will not be able to join us us in San Diego this year. Since his recurrence in 2012, Lee is Stage IV and now fighting cancer in his lungs, bones, liver and brain. While we’re walking on the San Diego 3-Day, the Giller family will be close to Lee’s side, but they are hopeful to return to the 3-Day next year.

Susan G. Komen walkers gear up and take on Day 1 for breast cancer awareness.

After Lee’s diagnosis, he decided to have genetic testing. Being male, aged 48, and Jewish were all red flags that his cancer was hereditary. Lee learned that he was BRCA positive, which meant that there was a 50% chance his three children could have the same mutation. At first, only his daughter Pamela wanted to be tested. She discovered that she also had the same BRCA1 mutation. She was monitored very closely, beginning mammograms and breast ultrasounds at the age of 25. “Then one day when she was just 28 years old, we received a call that no parent could ever imagine. She said, “Mom, I have some good news and some bad news. I have breast cancer, but it was caught early.”

Pamela had a bi-lateral mastectomy but did not need further treatment, and just this past year, had a preventative removal of her ovaries, called an oophorectomy. “Once Pam was diagnosed with breast cancer, our other two children immediately understood how real this disease was. They were both tested for the BRCA1 mutation. Our son has it but our other daughter does not. Unfortunately, there is no protocol for screening men who are BRCA-positive. Self-exams and clinical breast exams are the only recommendations,” explained Kathy.

Kathy’s dear friend Nancy describes Kathy as unstoppable. “Being a co-survivor for both Lee and Pamela has been a labor of love. She will do anything for them, and does. She is passionate about her fundraising because she wants a cure!” said Nancy. Kathy is applauded in the 3-Day community as a fierce advocate for male breast cancer awareness, and has raised a whopping $340,000 since 2006, and over $50,000 this year alone. Kathy’s team has raised almost a half a million dollars since 2006. As Lee’s primary caretaker, Kathy, along with Lee and her family, have made enormous contributions, and not just in fundraising. Kathy avidly encourages the inclusion of the word “men” anytime women and breast cancer are mentioned, and these victories have been evident to those who are close to this cause.

“For those people who think not enough has been done to advance breast cancer research, I would say that of course, we always need more. We still haven’t found the cure. But we have come a long way and Lee is living proof of that. When he was diagnosed with his recurrence 4 years ago, he was told that the average life span would be about 26 months. He’s still here. He still has many treatment options. This would not be the case if it weren’t for organizations like Komen and others who have dedicated themselves to fighting this disease.”

While it is both tragic and unfair that Kathy’s family has been so personally hit by breast cancer, we know that her contributions, while working alongside her family, have changed the public awareness of breast cancer in innumerable ways. We are continuously grateful to warriors like Kathy, Lee, Pamela, Annie, Jay, and Nancy for coming together, to shine a light for families in their darkest times. We all long for a day when breast cancer is just a thing of the past, and new patients can be treated quickly, effectively, and cured. But until then, Kathy reminds us that while we have made so much progress, we must still stay and fight, because: “Breast cancer is an equal opportunity employer: any age, any gender, any color. Be diligent.”

Susan G. Komen walkers gear up and take on Day 3 for breast cancer awareness.

 

 

 

2016 Susan G. Komen Dallas/Fort Worth 3-Day Wrap-up

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Friday morning, pink globes of light shone in the dark, illuminating a site where hundreds of people who have been touched by breast cancer began to gather. At Collin Creek Mall in Plano, as the sun rose in the sky, we heard touching stories from Honor Speakers, watched in admiration as survivors raised our flag, and were reminded by 3-Day Specialist Amber Livingston and Dr. Sheri Prentiss why our footsteps hold so much promise.

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Then, as the music pumped, we began our march towards a world without breast cancer. Our first Pit Stop was Mardis Bra themed, and as festooned crew handed out shiny beads, we stretched, munched on grahamwiches, filled up on sports drink, and then stopped for a quick play on the nearby playground. Just a few steps out of Pit Stop 1 were hundreds of children from Aldridge Elementary, lining the sidewalk eagerly giving out high fives and words of enthusiasm.2016_3day_df_gf_-70

Cheering stations lined the sidewalks at the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Richardson, Texas, and then, at mile 7.3, the bridge at Cottonwood Park served as the perfect backdrop for selfies.

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The stride continued to our lunch stop and then Anderson Bonner Park, where we wrapped up the day with more photo opps with the fun, metal people at Churchill Park. Brookhaven College became our home away from home for the night, and this Farmer’s Branch campus was a sight in pink. After we welcomed in our last walker, we had a rollicking camp show, complete with a hilarious game from Bank of America, and a speech by Dr. Weibo Luo, who shared his personal reasons for being a breast cancer warrior. After that, we bundled up in our cozy pink tents, laying tired heads on pillows in preparation for an amazing day two.

The energy was contagious on the brisk morning of Day 2, and after stopping by Mardis Bra again at Pit Stop 1, we headed to Pit Stop 2, which was ‘Wizard of Bras’ complete with a rest spot with a miniature tornado, flying monkey, and wicked witch.

Cheering stations including Park Hill Junior High School and the 3-Day cheer corps lined the blocks of the city, waving pom poms as we paraded by. Our lunch spot was the Wild West at 10 miles, and walkers feasted on sandwiches and salads, powering up for what lay ahead including puppies! Just shortly after of our lunch spot were the Guide Dogs of America, with yellow labs and black labs in training eagerly awaiting pets from excited walkers. After seeing puppies, it was onward to Pit Stops 3 and 4 (with some Grab and Go’s in between), at the scenic Vitruvian Park (mile 18.7), leading into the Survivor Stretch, and then through a tunnel of Team Komen volunteers, all in matching pink and handing out goodies.

From this amazingly uplifting stretch of the route, it was into the closing miles for Day 2, with a drum corps beating cadence into the sky. We welcomed our last walkers against a beautiful blue and yellow sunset, celebrating being one day closer to the end of breast cancer. Then, we heard from Catherine Olivieri, VP of Human Resources at Susan G. Komen, who shared with us the reason that she works with Komen, after losing her own mother, a breast cancer survivor, three years ago. We then celebrated our top fundraising award winners and milestone and local impact award winner. The spirit of 150 3-Day celebrations was filled with joy, as crew passed out cupcakes, sparkling juice, and special 150th gifts. Family and friends lined the perimeters of the tent, and whoops of joy filled the air as we clapped and clapped and clapped, finally ending our night with an exuberant dance party kicked off by Youth Corps. Then, we went back to our pink tent city, laying our heads on our pillows, dreaming of a day we can say, the world is free forever from breast cancer.

Sunday began with a quick bus ride from camp at Brookhaven College to Curtis Park. We were impressed by the cheerful smiles on walkers’ faces, even though feet and legs were feeling pretty sore. Our Pit Stops had cold, freshly brewed sports drink and a smorgasbord of snacks, from fresh bananas and oranges to the ever popular grahamwich.

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At miles 8-10, the stunning neighborhoods of the historic West End kept our eyes busy, especially as some houses paid special tribute to our walkers with elaborate decorations.

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Around 13 miles, we walked by a momentously historic location, the spot where John F. Kennedy was assassinated. We walked through the Kennedy memorial at the Grassy Knoll on to the Mobil Red Pegasus, and a scenic park where bull statues are crashing through the park, stopping to take plenty of photos.

Our day ended with us walking through Fair Park and at the  Cotton Bowl, where the gray skies broke slightly to reveal patches of light. In our emotional Closing Ceremony, as survivors raised their hands together, and walkers and crew dried their eyes, Dr. Sheri and Amber shared that we raised more than $2.4 million. This was all thanks to the tireless fundraising and support from our 900 walkers and 300 crew.

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Dallas/Fort Worth, they say everything is bigger in Texas, and the passion we saw for ending breast cancer forever proved it. As walkers, crew, and spectators streamed out of Fair Park, a triple rainbow arched from our stage to the sky, saying in perfect harmony that the world knows that together we are now 60 miles closer to ending breast cancer forever.

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2016 Dallas/Fort Worth 3-Day Award Winners and Honorees

Saturday evening’s camp show at the Susan G. Komen 3-Day® is all about celebration: walkers celebrate completing an amazing 40 miles, crew members high-five over giving hours upon hours of service to their fellow 3-Dayers, and everyone celebrates each other. It’s true that every walker and crew member could rightfully be given a medal for their accomplishments, but since that isn’t really possible, we do like to take time at the end of Day 2 to recognize some walkers and crew members for outstanding achievements. We were pleased to award the following outstanding walkers, crew members and teams in Dallas/Fort Worth:

Top Individual Fundraiser

Our top fundraiser this year, Liz Fagan, raised an impressive $12,011 this season. In her three years with the 3-Day, she has raised over $17,000. Liz Fagan is an emergency room physician who won the EmCare Commitment to Care award, which is voted on by patients. You’re truly dedicated, Liz.

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Top Team Fundraiser

We’re thrilled to announce that Top Team Fundraising award winner is Pink Soles in Motion, who have raised an astonishing $150,000 this year, with 85 team members! In their amazing 11 years as a 3-Day team, they have raised $1,469,646. WOW!

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Top Crew Fundraiser

Our Top Crew Fundraiser this year is Pamella Whitham, who has participated in 13 events. In her time with the 3-Day, she has raised over $55,000 for Susan G. Komen. Pamella loves Paris and her home in Malibu, where she is a realtor. She loves time with her husband, children, garden, ducks, and chickens, and especially, her eight grandchildren. You’re a star, Pamella!

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Top Training Walk Leader: Mary Tengra

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Join us in congratulating Mary! Every year you’ll see Mary in a new outfit and hat on the event. She’s worn everything from a birthday cake to a sphere of pink Styrofoam cups on her head. Her talent and creativity keeps people searching for her outrageous outfits at Opening Ceremony every year. Mary is a 20-year breast cancer survivor; she has been a dedicated team captain of NO WALKER LEFT BEHIND since 2011 and welcomes new walkers to her team every year. She’s a no-nonsense leader telling new people, “be prepared to participate in group fundraiser and tell your family they’re going to be just fine without you while you’re out training with us.” Mary has a way of embracing walkers like family and as her team name reflects, there are NO WALKERS LEFT BEHIND. One of her teammates said: “I’ve been walking w/ Mary for 5 years and we have never gotten lost, turned around maybe, walked longer than we planned maybe, skipped a couple turns maybe but never lost….” Here’s what a few other teammates have said about Mary:

  • “When you say to Mary, ‘I thought we were not doing hills today!’ her response is, ‘this is not a hill it’s an incline.’”
  • “And finally when planning our 3-day décor, nothing for Mary is too big, too bright, too over-the-top, has too many feathers, has too much bling or is just way too uncomfortable.”
  • “Mary, we love you and Thanks for being more than a Captain; Thanks for being a true friend!”

Milestone Award and Local Impact Award

These two other special awards are presented to participants who stand out and shine extra brightly in a sky of very bright 3-Day stars. The Milestone Award is given at each event to one participant who has an extraordinary history of involvement with the 3-Day, and the Local Impact Award recognizes a participant in each 3-Day city who has been instrumental in strengthening the 3-Day in their community throughout the year.

Milestone Award Recipient: Catrina Gibson

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Catrina has participated in 11 events and this year will make 12 & 13, being in Dallas/Forth Worth and San Diego. She has raised over $59,000 and leads the team Pink Soles in Motion. Her dedication to Komen and the memory of her beautiful mother who she lost in 2000 has given her the drive and determination to never give up when it comes to fundraising and recruiting walkers to join the fight. A verse that she lives by is: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Gal. 6:9). Catrina, thank you for never giving up and coming back to raise money and walk for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day year after year. Here are some fun facts about Catrina:

    • When Catrina arrives to an early morning training walk and there’s a great song on the radio, you can catch her jamming in her car until it’s over.
    • She tortured herself for five days of Orange Theory Fitness workouts for a great looking t-shirt.
    • She has mastered removing the under layer of clothing while walking.

Teammate Sandy Sauceda said about Cat, “One of the best memories I have with Cat at the 3-day is when she convinced me to walk wearing our Cure Bear costumes.  This is not like me but I had so much fun.  She brings that out in people. We walked more together as a group that year and chanted and laughed so much!  She Inspires! She has been a TWL for 8 years and has lead most of our walks, especially the 18 miler (nobody is crazy about that) but she is always game.  She gets all going and makes sure that we have what we need (walker stalkers) to make it.  She is dedicated! She gives even when it is hard. Life gets crazy and being a captain of a large team is stressful. Catrina is always there taking on more than her share to make the team successful.  She cares!”

Local Impact Award Winner: Dr. Sheryl Cowan

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Dr. Cowan has been a 3-Day participant since 2009 and has walked in 9 events up to this year. She registered for all seven of the 2016 cities and raised the money to participate in every one. Due to her commitment to her community and patients, she will attend four in person and walk the rest around the city of Plano where she lives. She has raised over $48,000 and contributes the generous donations she receives from her colleagues to her team mates on STEPS, which stands for Screening, Treatment, Educations and Programs. Sheryl held a board position with the Komen Dallas County Affiliate and her commitment to Komen and breast health never waivers. She has created an amazing, family-oriented atmosphere with Team STEPS as well as others and has rallied the troops to not only help each other, but she has led the charge to help the local community, especially during the 2015 tornadoes that swept through Texas.

Here’s a little bit about Sheryl from her teammates: “Sheryl carries business cards with her at all times. Wherever she goes she finds a connection with people through health or fitness or a family member touched by cancer. She gives them her card as a personal contact if they are in need of medical help, as a way to tie them in with Team STEPS through our Facebook page, or to offer an opportunity to walk the 3-Day in honor of someone with breast cancer. Sheryl is very much a believer that everyone has something to contribute to a team so that the team can achieve its goal. The goal of the 3-Day is to raise funds and walk 60 miles. She connects people who need help with fundraising, people who have aches and pains that need stretching, solo walkers who need motivation. She finds that strength in each person which is why our members keep coming back. They feel needed and appreciated. “Although we began as a group of walkers under the name Team STEPS, we have grown to be a team of walkers passionate about “saving lives and curing diseases”. Our training walks, under Sheryl’s leadership, are inclusive of teams from all over Dallas and its suburbs. We consider everyone an important part of the 3-Day family no matter the team they register under and invite them to train with us. Sheryl has said that she is not the “cutesie/tutu type” personality. Her team was built to train any walker who wants to walk the 60 miles to reach that goal.”

Please join us in giving a round of applause and a high 5 to all of these extraordinary 3-Day participants. With your help, we’re 60 miles closer to ending breast cancer forever!