By Emily Williams-Robertshaw
After shifting to an all-virtual experience last year, the American Cancer Society’s 41st annual Hope Gala will take place in person this year on Aug. 21.
Co-chairs Crawford Bumgarner, Kathleen Doss and Jeamer Nichols have chosen the theme “The Future is Bright” for this year’s celebration.
“This theme reflects not only the bright future of cancer research but also the refurbishment and reopening of Birmingham’s Hope Lodge this July,” Doss said. “As we emerge from this past year’s unprecedented pandemic, we hope this event and bright theme will bring our community out to celebrate a positive look to the future with a happy, colorful and fun evening.”
In addition, the group has chosen four honorees to be celebrated at this event: Dr. Mack Barnes, Suzan Doidge, Monica Yates Mitchell and J.D. Segers.
According to Bumgarner, the goal in choosing honorees was to find bright spots in the fight against cancer and in the community.
Doidge, executive director of the Mountain Brook Chamber of Commerce, noted that one of the things that drives her as she uses her voice to support the American Cancer Society is knowing that the money raised will help local efforts to battle cancer and support patients.
“One of the best things about living in Birmingham, Alabama, is that we have the best medical community in the world,” Doidge said.
In 2019, Doidge began her cancer journey with a routine checkup at her doctor’s office that included a mammogram.
“I didn’t have any issues that I knew of at the time,” she said.
After the screening, Doidge was informed that there was something in her screening that needed a second look. When meeting with an oncologist, she discovered that there was a one-centimeter lump in her right breast.
The doctor informed Doidge that, if it were his own family member, he would suggest a lumpectomy. “At the time, quite honestly, I was not happy to hear that, but it was such a relief that it wasn’t something that I had thought was going to be a life-changing experience,” Doidge said.
Believing the lumpectomy was the end, she decided she wasn’t going to tell her family, hoping to avoid causing any worry for her husband or her two college-aged children.
Yet, based on her age and history, her oncologist ordered an MRI, which showed a deeper issue. There was a six-centimeter lobular cancer located in her left breast. That meant her lumpectomy was now upgraded to a double mastectomy.
While the major surgery was far more invasive, Doidge said she got through it relatively smoothly.
“I had no problems with the surgery,” Doidge said. “I felt like it was over before it started.”
Just as she thought she was in the clear, her doctors found that the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, and her battle continued through the pandemic.
“That process took me to various rounds of chemo followed by 38 treatments with radiation,” Doidge said.
This summer, she completed her last reconstructive surgery and skin grafting, and she now is on the road to recovery.
With her future beginning to look brighter, Doidge said she is thankful for past support of cancer research, specifically in the breast cancer world. Through research that led to the development of new treatments, breast cancer is not the inevitable death sentence it was years ago.
“It used to be, when you heard you had cancer, a lot of folks didn’t make it through,” Doidge said. “I unfortunately know people who didn’t make it through their journey. So, the amount of money that stays here locally is so important.”
Along with Doidge, fellow honorees represent cancer survivors as well as current patients.
Segers is a 23-year survivor of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a diagnosis she received in her second year of marriage.
When she underwent a bone marrow transplant years ago, she was told it was a temporary fix to buy time for a bone marrow donor to be found. She was given a 20% chance of survival following the treatment, yet her body fought and has continued to win as she remains in remission.
“I support ACS not only because of the resources, community and support it provides patients and their families today, but the promise and the hope it provides people who will be facing cancer tomorrow,” Segers said.
Barnes, a gynecologic oncologist, recalls receiving the news that his father had been diagnosed with lymphoma during his time as a medical student.
“There was a certain irony six months ago when I was diagnosed with lymphoma and started on that journey of treatment,” Barnes said.
While his father lost his life to the disease, Barnes recently finished his chemotherapy treatments and has moved on to the maintenance stage of his cancer journey.
His experiences led him to reflect on his patients’ experiences and to serve them and support them during treatments when they aren’t meeting with him in his office.
“This diagnosis for me has had several levels,” he said. “Maybe I got this from my dad. … When I was first diagnosed, I didn’t want to go through this and not become a better person in some way.”
For honoree Mitchell, the battle continues. She was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia two days after Christmas.
According to Mitchell, what drives her to support the American Cancer Society is her will to live and the awareness the organization brings to lifesaving research and patient battles.
Her treatment will require a bone marrow transplant, and while one of her two sons is a 50% match, she is hoping to find a better match to achieve the best result.
“I choose to live to see my kids get married, to see my grandbabies, to see the possibilities this life has ahead,” Mitchell said.
The Hope Gala chairs noted that donations can be made on the event website, acshopegala.swell.gives. Donors can give in honor of one of the four honorees or of a loved one.