Cancer volunteers rock


I was on an airport shuttle from Santa Fe to Albuquerque, New Mexico, yesterday and, as I usually do, I struck up a conversation with one of my co-riders. Helen appeared to be in her late'60s and was returning from visiting a friend in Santa Fe, and after stopping off to see a child, she would be returning home to Houston. As we chatted, she mentioned that for the past 25 years she has volunteered at The Rose in Houston. The Rose is one of those great nonprofit stories that you need to know. The Rose was started by a surgeon named Dixie Melillo, who was a high school drop out. Melillo went back to school while a single mother raising two boys. She worked at a fast food restaurant waiting tables and at the post office loading dock to work her way through medical school. When she graduated in 1983, she was the second woman to graduate from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. As she began to specialize in breast surgery, she saw a growing number of women who were beyond treatment. Then in 1985, she met breast cancer activist Rose Kushner. Kushner, who has been called the mother of the modified radical mastectomy, fought to end the radical mastectomy that took the muscle with the breast, leaving a woman not only disfigured but also physically diminished. When Melillo told Kushner about the number of uninsured women, Kushner challenged her to do something about it, and she did. Last year, The Rose provided 33,784 screening and diagnostic procedures for those able to pay; 19,369 screening and diagnostic procedures at no charge to low income, uninsured women; 8,857 free patient navigation services to patients without insurance.The Rose mission is to reduce deaths from breast cancer by providing screening, diagnostics and access to treatment for all women regardless of their ability to pay.And since the day they opened Helen Perry has been there to help. She has never had breast cancer, but felt like it was something she wanted to be involved in. She told me one story about a woman who called from a pay phone. The woman said she needed help and it was her last quarter. She explained that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and when the docotor said she needed surgery, she borrowed money from everyone in the family until she had enough. When she went in to the doctor after surgery to have the drains removed, he told her she would need chemotherapy. The woman asked how much that would cost and when he told her she said she couldn't because she didn't have the money. "She said he handed her the file and said that she needed to find someone else," she told me. By the end of the call, they had found her a doctor. "A few years later the woman called just to let us all know she is still around." If you have spare time and want to make a difference, volunteer.

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