My eyes were opened to the harsh realities of the women living in poverty and the impact of disease upon them while on a safari in Africa. I went to see the animals, but they turned out to be secondary to the beautiful women who were suffering. It haunted me. I had to do something. And for me, something is usually followed by “dramatic.”
Departing my job with Sara Lee where for five years I had launched the licensee Donna Karen Hosiery globally, I took a few years off to learn about poverty. You know, it’s really complex! It was July 1995 when I hopped on a plane to Kenya, boarded a Matatu and lived in a remote area alone to study Female Genital Mutilation. Afterwards, my life could never be the same.
Soon I was to join a global nonprofit which addresses the needs of the world’s poorest of the poor. Intensely drawn to the plight of women and girls, I focused my work on empowering them with independence, a choice, a voice…or simply to just “matter” in their own homes and communities.
Those women and girls taught me that no matter what I did for them, they gave me more in return. Giving is a blessing unparalleled.
Fast-forward five years and a brilliant, beautiful young breast cancer surgeon entered in to my life…Dr. Kristi Funk. We become fast friends, trusting one another implicitly, daring to share our good and bad traits and vowed to stand beside one another in times of need. It was later that I learned she does that for everyone she calls a friend.
Before I knew it, another five years had whizzed by me. It was on February 2, 2005, that fear struck my heart. My beautiful, beloved sister was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at 47 years of age. Never had I needed the guidance and counsel more than when I dialed Dr. Funk’s number. “It’s a bad tumor,” rang over and over in my head. I was comforted by her next statement, “Don’t worry, I will treat her as if she is my sister and take care of everything.” Again, it was later that I learned, she does that for everyone she treats.
Next time, it was me in need. The best we could understand, the Chinese surgeon said, “You very bad. One hour, you die.”
From my hospital room in Beijing, I picked up my BlackBerry and once again dialed Dr. Funk. Too ill to speak, my sister took the phone and Dr. Funk calmly walked her through what to ask and be aware of, comforting her. We heeded her advice and today I am alive as a result. That horrible nightmare served to mold and shape me as I got a first-hand glimpse of what it is like to be in need and to be completely and utterly helpless.
And it was yet another five years, 2010, when I returned from New York where I had been part of an organization working with global leaders and corporations fighting HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria globally. With a newfound compassion for women who are ill and cannot get help, I was approached by the Funk family to launch their dream nonprofit, Pink Lotus Petals. I now look back with the realization that everything I have done and experienced in the last 15 years has prepared me for this moment.
I am humbled and at the same time honored to be chosen for this mission. I will reach my hand out to underserved women, this time in my own country. Be prepared, I will be grasping for your helping hand with my other. It’s going to take all of us, working together, to make a real difference. And we will! While the world is searching for a cure, there will be Pink Lotus Petals saving women’s lives today.
While on this amazing journey, I will routinely blog in the “Giving Back” category of Breast Cancer 101 to update you with heartfelt stories about women whose lives we were able to impact through our charitable programs.