A colleague explains how one woman transformed the devastation of her breast cancer diagnosis into a “war strategy” of advocacy, starting at her kitchen table.
“You have breast cancer.” Four simple words, then silence. Time itself freezes, as if some cosmic power switch abruptly turned off. Somehow, the cold fluorescent ceiling light continues to softly flicker and hum, an unnerving defiance in the icy suspended tableau of this formerly innocuous examination room. The doctor’s mouth slowly moves as the hum crescendos in your head. This can’t be happening. Why? Why me!? Oh God, what about my kids? Am I going to die? Slowly, the four words sink in and your new life begins. Ready or not, you are now a warrior.
For thousands of women and men every year, this kind of waking nightmare serves as the cruel orientation to the most important battle of their life. In October 1990, Dale Eastman experienced this horror firsthand. Diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at age 49, the San Antonio mother of three was faced with two choices: fight or FIGHT! Dale chose the latter.
She channeled the anger from her diagnosis into action and crafted a war strategy fit for a general. Dale bravely fought through painful surgeries and sickening chemotherapy to the victory of remission in 1992. She knew that while this battle may have ended, the war was far from over.
Dale knew she had to continue the fight and help others affected by this disease. Her passion and determination eventually led to a meeting in 1992 with three fellow survivors around Dale’s kitchen table. This makeshift war room is where the seeds of the Alamo Breast Cancer Foundation were sown.
These brave women spent the next three years carefully crafting, from scratch, a nonprofit organization dedicated to breast cancer advocacy. During their respective breast cancer journeys, Dale and her friends discovered that treatment options available in the 1990s had not changed since the 1970s. Many women, after receiving a diagnosis, had only two or three days to make major decisions regarding surgery and treatment. They deemed this totally unacceptable and vowed to change the status quo.
Dale and the other Alamo Breast Cancer Foundation founders focused their efforts on identifying the causes of breast cancer with an aim to discover preventives and, hopefully, a cure. The Alamo Breast Cancer Foundation’s direct support of evidence-based scientific research remains a core function of the foundation. For 24 years, the Patient Advocate Program at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium has provided a remarkable educational platform for the world’s breast cancer community. The Patient Advocate Program is world renowned and has served as a model for numerous international scientific conferences.
Dale also designed the Alamo Breast Cancer Foundation as a community resource to help ensure quality care for all women and men affected by breast cancer. Outreach events such as the Alamo Breast Cancer Foundation’s Healthy Women Make Healthy Communities provide valuable resources, educational material and free screening mammograms for San Antonio’s uninsured and underinsured populations. Strong partnerships with San Antonio’s medical community afford the Alamo Breast Cancer Foundation a broad range of resources to help assist and guide thousands of individuals.
In the nearly 30 years since Dale helped create the Alamo Breast Cancer Foundation, she has continued her fight as a fierce breast cancer advocate. In 1994 she partnered with the National Breast Cancer Coalition to fight for breast cancer funding and research at the federal level. Dale is a proud 1995 graduate of the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s Project LEAD science training course and a participant in numerous advocacy training conferences and advocate leadership summits.
She has embraced her leadership in every way possible. Dale became the National Breast Cancer Coalition Texas field coordinator in 1997, managing the Texas Action Network. When the National Breast Cancer Coalition developed a network of team leaders in 2003, Dale was one of the first invited to take on that role. Dale served on the National Breast Cancer Coalition board of directors from 1995 until 2015. She credits her National Breast Cancer Coalition training for her consistent, successful advocacy work.
Dale has led the advocacy charge on the state and national levels, developing relationships with Texas lawmakers. Dale was proud to represent Texas and the National Breast Cancer Coalition at the White House, delivering tens of thousands of signatures in support of research funding. She continues to serve as the chair of advocacy and government relations for the Alamo Breast Cancer Foundation and as a National Breast Cancer Coalition field leader. Her leadership resulted in Texas enacting laws expanding access to care for underserved women with breast and cervical cancer, mandating coverage of routine health care costs associated with clinical trials and mandating advocate involvement in research programs, among many others.
Dale has been appointed to several councils and committees in breast cancer and elsewhere, including the advisory board of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Breast Cancer and the Environmental Working Group and the NIH Collaborative Summit on Breast Cancer Research. She has received many awards and recognitions, locally and nationally, for her breast cancer work.
Above all, Dale Eastman serves as an inspiring leader for the breast cancer community. Despite a metastatic recurrence in 2018, Dale exudes unstoppable strength and her passionate dedication to advocacy inspires us every day. She is the mother of our Alamo Breast Cancer Foundation family and we unequivocally consider Dale our hero.
Stay FIERCE, Dale! We thank you, we honor you and we love you.
For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.