Brooks to chair Champions of Hope
At 26 years old, Brooks was diagnosed with breast cancer, had a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, before eventually having a double mastectomy after testing positive for the BRCA2 cancer gene.
"Doctors traced my tumor growth to my teens. I was shocked," Brooks said. "When I found out, my whole family loaded up and went to the surgeon's office. The doctor had us all in the exam room and said, 'This is what we're dealing with.'"
The Cottonwood native, who is this year's chairman for the Sandi McCool Champions of Hope, first noticed something was amiss in her breast while breastfeeding her infant daughter, Callie. Her son, Cade, was three at the time.
"I noticed my daughter was not nursing well on the left side. I thought I had a blocked milk duct. One month later my lump had doubled in size. The OBGYN thought I had a fluid-filled cyst. He tried to aspirate it and when he couldn't, he sent me for a mammogram."
A biopsy confirmed the worst. "I was told to find an oncologist."
Brooks had six rounds of chemotherapy in early 2003 in Dothan, followed by a lumpectomy and 36 radiation treatments with radiation oncologist Steve Stokes, MD, at Southeast Cancer Center. She was interested in the genetic link so she was tested, and confirmed positive for the BRCA2 gene.
Heeding her doctor's advice about being proactive, Brooks decided on a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction. It was a big step for such a young woman. While she feels relieved, the genetic link hangs over her.
"My mother has tested positive. At the advice of her physicians, she had a hysterectomy and has had no problems. She continues to have regular mammograms for early detection. My children can be tested when they are 18."
According to the National Cancer Institute, a woman's lifetime risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer is greatly increased if she inherits a harmful mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2.
Breast cancer was a life-changing event. "It changed everything," Brooks said. "I changed how I eat. How I feed my children. My relationships and friendships changed. Everything changed."
Since her diagnosis and treatment, Brooks has been healthy and cancer-free, but continues to fight for other women. She is an advocate for breast cancer patients, catering to their physical needs at the business, 2 Girls and a Spa, which she operates with her partner Charlene Commerford. The two started the business in 2009.
"I got into massage to help with scar tissue release," she said. "I wanted to help relieve pain specifically for cancer patients."
Brooks met Commerford at a breast cancer walk where Brooks showed up to give free massages to those participating in the 80-mile walk. It was Brooks' way of thanking the participants for raising awareness about breast cancer. The two can also be heard together on 106.7 KMX where they host the popular morning radio show 2 Girls and a Mic, which launched a year ago.
Being asked to chair this year's Champions of Hope is special for Brooks, in that she was personal friends with founding chairman Sandi McCool and has always helped at the event.
"She was a dear, dear friend of mine," said Brooks. "It is emotional, but a true honor, to be able to take part in this. I am honored to do it for Sandi but it is difficult because she is not here."
McCool died of breast cancer in November 2011 at the age of 37.
Brooks, who shares her journey with clients at the spa and listeners on the radio, will do whatever it takes to encourage women as they struggle with this disease.
"I've been able to reach people about something that changes you from the inside out. My experience has been like a shedding of skin. For me, getting breast cancer was a shocker because I was so young."
Champions of Hope, started seven years ago by the Southeast Alabama Medical Center Foundation, has been extremely successful in raising funds to expand cancer services and programs offered by SAMC. More than $582,000 has been raised.
"I am proud of this area. There are so many resources and so much support. We have changed the mindset of the diagnosis," Brooks said.
"Champions of Hope has turned around the way people think about breast cancer. There is hope. The diagnosis age seems younger and younger but it's not as scary as it used to be. Women are more educated. The Sandi McCool Champions of Hope event has helped women feel less isolated and alone. The breast cancer struggle is 70 percent mental."
Champions of Hope is Saturday, Oct. 18 on the campus of the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine (ACOM), located just off U.S. 84 East. There will be a 5k and a 10k race, a spirit walk and a Kid Fit Challenge. All Both races and the walk begin at 8 a.m. Day-of-event non-competitive registration begins at 6 a.m. For more information, contact the foundation at www.samcfoundation.org or call 334 673-4150.
Williams outstanding Foundation volunteer
Jackie Williams, Radiology Support Services, was recently honored as the SAMC Foundation Employee Advisory Board (FEAB) volunteer of the year. Each year the Foundation presents the award to an individual who goes above and beyond in his/her support of the organization's mission.
Jackie served as the 2014 FEAB vice president and chaired the Employee Campaign. Due to her countless hours of planning and advocating for the Foundation, along with her guidance and dedication during the campaign, the 2014 SAMC Employee Campaign is the largest in the Foundation's history with 972 partners and $163,000 in funds raised.
Hospitalists welcome ACOM students
SAMC hospitalists sponsored the 2nd annual ACOM "Welcome to Campus" 5KTrail Run/Walk on August 2 at Eastgate Park. The event is part of the students' orientation weekend and is designed to welcome new students while interacting with SAMC physicians in a healthy and active way. Chris Hargett, DO, (left) neurosurgery and Edward Robson, MD, hospitalist, pose for a photo before the run.