by Lori R. Trost, DMD, PC
Since 9/11 tragedies, there have been many opportunities for us to reflect on families, friends, neighborhoods, and country. The dental community also has taken this time to evaluate what is really important to us. We have the ability to make a difference within our dental family — be it team members, patients, or the surrounding community. The possibility to influence or champion a cause is a privilege. Only when we ignore the voice, nudge, or calling do we fail. By recognizing that there is opportunity, setting your intentions into motion, and realizing that your action matters, we all benefit. The choice is yours.
By focusing some of our "helpfulness energy," a good friend suggested that we challenge ourselves by training to run in the Susan G. Komen "Race for the Cure" in St. Louis last June. The new year was upon us. After we both suffered knee injuries last year, rehabilitation was in order.
"Running a 5K would certainly help us get back in shape!" my friend assured me. Not only was the idea exciting and challenging, but, more importantly, the "Race for the Cure" was extremely motivating. This was a message to share with patients, an opportunity to educate more women, and a means to support known survivors. Susan G. Komen died from breast cancer at the age of 36. Her sister established the Komen Foundation in 1982. The Foundation supports one of the most innovative and responsive grant programs in breast cancer research and education today.
Arriving at work one February morning, my challenge became real when my first patient asked me to turn off the chair massager during her recare hygiene appointment. She shared that she had recently undergone a lumpectomy. It was malignant. Radiation and chemotherapy treatments were to follow. Glenda's tone and outlook were upbeat, especially with early detection during a self-breast exam.
Looking forward to the next day's appointments, I noticed a favorite elderly couple on the schedule. Vivian and her husband had always kept their recare hygiene appointments together. When he showed up solo last fall, we found out the reason why. Vivian was diagnosed with breast cancer in October and had undergone a mastectomy. Her husband touched my entire office by sharing their experience. Our team was so moved that we wrote an encouraging note to Vivian.
This was going to be my first time to see her after her surgery and treatment. So many questions and thoughts crowded my mind. Should I ignore the past few months? What if I ask how she is doing and it is not a favorable prognosis? What if she starts crying?
As I greeted Vivian, her smile was radiant. Her poise and confidence gave me strength to quiet my earlier fears. She thanked me for the note our team sent and said how much it meant to her to have support during a time of need.
Instantly I found myself thinking about the upcoming race. I explained to Vivian that I was training to run in the race, and I asked permission to put her name on the back of my race shirt. I will never forget the encouraging look on her face.
Suddenly, this conversation became my motivating force.
Keep in mind that I am not a runner. But give me a tennis racket or a golf club, and let's go play! My ego became captive to my naivete; I thought a 5K was just a "walk in the park." After my first day in training, barely completing a half-mile, I was in for a rude awakening.
Gradually, my stamina increased, and I was able to run farther. I began to share my mileage successes with my team members. By April, everyone in my office committed to participating in the race. My enthusiasm was contagious.
At our April team meeting, we all decided to invite patients to join our "Race for the Cure" effort. Our group name would be the "Smile Team." Upon further discussion, we could name eight patients who had been affected by breast cancer in the past 18 months. To show our support for these women, with their permission, we would have their names printed on the back of our race shirts.
May was a great month for encouraging continued training and race participation. We decorated our office with pink balloons and streamers. Each of us wore a pink ribbon, signifying breast cancer awareness.
Patients would enter the office asking, "Who had the baby girl?" and leave with breast cancer information and education. More importantly, our growing enthusiasm gained more race participants. We registered 48 people on the "Smile Team!"
Even though we were physically committed to the race through training, we were truly unprepared emotionally to experience the "Race for the Cure" day. More than 45,000 people joined together to eradicate breast cancer as a life-threatening disease. All ages — young and old, families, supporters, and survivors — were there. The "sea of pink" rally (connotating survivors) was incredibly overwhelming. Witnessing their amazing stamina and courage as they crossed the finish line and were greeted with roses, cameras, and hugs was awe-inspiring.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women of all ages, second only to lung cancer. It is the leading cause of death among women ages 40 to 59. During 2002, more than 200,000 women (one woman every three minutes) will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Additionally, 1,500 men will develop breast cancer, and 400 will die. Early detection is the key to survival.
Bringing this message to our office has had an important effect. We now promote breast cancer education and make available breast self-exam brochures. We are convinced that if we help just one woman, family, child, aunt, sister, or mother, our commitment will have made a significant difference. And, on a personal level, we each support a "friend-to-friend" effort among team members to encourage monthly breast self-exams. (Considering most dental offices are staffed with women, a critical audience is already being met.)
There were so many stories that day ... some shared, others held to dear memory ... pictures, wheelchairs, strollers, banners ... all about life and a disease. Ironically, upon crossing the finish line, I noticed a gentleman next to me with an "In Memory Of" sign on his back. It said: "My Mom — Suzy Komen." I introduced myself to Scott Komen and thanked him for sharing his story and family with so many of us. He told me the day was bittersweet and that he lives for the day when we do not have the "Race" but perhaps a celebration for the cure. Before moving on, he introduced me to his daughter, a beautiful, brown-eyed, curly-haired three-year-old. He said, "I would like for you to meet the new Suzy Komen." What a privilege and honor for me!
"Great opportunities to help others seldom come, but small ones surround us everyday." — Sally KochLori R. Trost, DMD, PC, created the Center for Contemporary Dentistry in Columbia, Ill., in 1989. Dr. Trost is a member of the ADA and AGD, is a published author, and consults for 3M ESPE's "Council for Innovative Dentistry." You can reach Dr. Trost at [email protected].