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The Strength from Without
Gail F. Coors, Susan B. Komen Foundation

I am a breast cancer survivor. I am many other things as well, including a wife, mother, volunteer and avid golfer. A few years ago whileI was hitting golf balls on the driving range, an older gentleman approached and I asked him how he was doing. "I###m on the right side of the grass today." he replied. I smiled. It###s good to be a survivor, to be on the right side of the grass.

If you play golf in Colorado you know that the geese love the courses as much as we do. They may be beautiful and graceful birds, but I am convinced their "goose poop" is not biodegradable. Every winter I dread the geese and hope they find a winter home somewhere other than my golf course. Recently, however, I have acquired a new appreciation for those birds. I received a newsletter in the mail which showed me that we humans could learn a lot more from these birds than to watch where we step.

Every flap of a goose###s wings creates an uplift for the other geese that follow it. The "V" formation adds 71 percent greater flying range than if each goose flew alone. The geese in the rear of the "V" honk to encourage the leaders to keep up their speed. And when the lead goose gets tired, it will fall back and another goose will automatically assume the lead. If one goose gets sick or wounded two other geese will drop out of the formation, follow it to the ground and try to protect it. The two healthy geese will stay with the fallen goose until it dies or is able to fly again.

Like geese, we can accomplish so much more when we travel through life uplifting each other. We need to honk encouragement to keep each other motivated to be our best. We need to get involved in leadership roles and we need to stick by each other through the difficult times.

I was raised in a small North Carolina town surrounded by family and a lot of uplift. My grandmother lived with us. My aunt and uncle, their kids and my maternal grandparents lived just two doors down the street. I spent as much time at my Aunt Martha###s house as I did at my own. About thirty years ago Aunt Martha was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her doctor performed a radical mastectomy and removed all of her lymph nodes. She underwent radiation treatment and she survived. Later, she contracted skin cancer and bone cancer. I###ll never forget her favorite saying, "My cancer has been very good to me. It has stayed away from my vital organs." She died a few years ago just two months short of her 90th birthday.

In February of 1991, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I went into the hospital for a routine biopsy of a lump in my right breast and the surgeon told me on the spot that the lump was malignant. Three days later I had a mastectomy and my journey into the scary world of cancer began. I have to say that my first reaction was not the contemplation of death. Aunt Martha had been proof that cancer did not have to be deadly. I was, however, terrified about losing my breast. I wondered how Aunt Martha could think that a breast was not a vital organ. She was right, however, and she was a great "goose" for me, honking encouragement at me as I fought my battle.

I received aggressive chemotherapy and radiation. I suffered every side effect - total hair loss, mouth sores, nausea and sore muscles. My veins collapsed under the treatment and I had to have a port implanted in my chest to receive the chemotherapy. There were a few positive sides to my treatment. I never had a problem getting ready for the day. I did not have to fix my hair, shave or apply mascara. And I have acquired quite a nice collection of hats.

I had a whole flock of geese who stuck by me until I could fly again. My husband and my family kept me encouraged to fight for a full recovery. I had prayers, cards, visits, phone calls and letter from friends and neighbors, many of whom I had not seen or heard from in years. My team of doctors, my surgeon, plastic surgeon, radiologist, oncologist and nutritionist, worked with me through my battle. And I met the most wonderful friends who were also undergoing cancer treatments. The honking of hope and encouragement also came from my faith in God. When I could not sleep at night, I listened to the Psalms on tape. I spent many hours in prayer and absorbing the scriptures. One of my favorite passages became Psalm 91:4, "He will cover you with His feathers and under His wings you will find refuge." God is a part of my flock of geese uplifting and encouraging me, as I am one of His flock of sheep. Together my flock accomplished what I could not have done alone: I have been cancer free for six years. The strength that I received from without was very powerful.

I want to share with you what one of my sisters-in-law did for me which was particularly uplifting so that you can do the same for your friends and family. When I returned from my first chemotherapy treatment, Sharna delivered a bouquet with nine red roses and one white rose. I was scheduled to have ten chemotherapy treatments and the white rose represented one more step toward recovery. After each treatment, Sharna brought me a bouquet with ten roses, each with 1 more white rose and one less red rose. I felt that I could see the cancer going away. You can probably imagine the joy I felt when I saw those ten white roses!

In 1993, one of my neighbors asked me to help with the Race for the Cure and that one little nudge was the beginning of my involvement with the Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Susan Komen died of breast cancer in 1980. Her sister, Nancy Brinker, started the Foundation in 1982. The Foundation is a national organization dedicated to funding research, education, prevention and treatment of the disease. Our mission is to eradicate breast cancer as a life-threatening disease. The Foundation is the largest private fund raiser for breast cancer research in the United States. The Race for the Cure is a national event and is the largest fund raiser for the Foundation. Denver is fortunate to have some of the best research and cure facilities in the United States. The Foundation alone expects to fund $500,000 into Denver area breast cancer programs this year.

I have my personal experience with breast cancer to drive me to be an advocate in this battle. I also have a mother, a mother-in-law, a sister, five sisters-in-law, two daughters, a daughter-in-law, fourteen nieces and countless friends, neighbors and acquaintances whom I do not want to have to experience breast cancer. We can accomplish so much more in our battle if others will join us, flap their wings and share the leadership. You can be geese for those in your life who you love by joining their flock, uplifting them, honking encouragement at them and being there for them through their struggles. Everyone has something to offer whether it is time, money, talent, skills or a voice. You can even touch those you do not even know by assuming a lead of the "V" in the fight against breast cancer.

If you would like to join me in this battle against breast cancer, or if you have questions about breast cancer, I welcome you to contact the Susan B. Komen Foundation at the national help line (800) I###M-AWARE or our Denver office at 303.744.2088.

Gail Coors was born and raised in Chapel Hill, NC, and attended the University of North Carolina achieving a degree in elementary education. She currently resides in Golden, CO with her husband of 35 years, Joe Coors, Jr. Three of her grown children are employed in the Coors Family businesses and the fourth is a lawyer in Denver.

Gail is a breast cancer survivor and an advocate for women###s health. She is the President-Elect of the Denver Metropolitan Chapter of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Her volunteer activities include the Colorado Women###s Open Golf Tournament, the AMC Day of Caring, the Race for the Cure, the Channel 9 News Health Fair, and Youth for Christ. Another part of her outreach has been as a Stephens Minister at Cherry Hills Community Church.

Gail loves to golf and read novels. She also enjoys traveling adventures, which includes assisting her husband flying from coast to coast in a helicopter. She is an accomplished stained glass artisan. She has become a real Colorado sports fan and looks forward to attending Rockies, Broncos, Nuggets and A