At age 20, Dorothy Gibbons watched helplessly as her mother succumbed to breast cancer. Her mother had been an uninsured, uneducated single parent of four working as a janitor to feed her family. Mammograms and other preventative care were a luxury. Her unfortunate death inspired her daughter toward her calling.
Fifteen years later, Dorothy co-founded The Rose, a Houston-based organization offering comprehensive screening to all women—including the uninsured. The seed she planted to make sure no woman shared her mother’s experience has grown into two diagnostic centers, a 33,000-square-foot facility and two mobile mammography sites.
Throughout all of her work, Dorothy’s mother remains the inspiration. “My greatest worry,” she says, “is that any woman would die because she couldn’t afford a mammogram.” Despite what she’s built, Dorothy may not be able to save every woman from breast cancer. However, she refuses to quit until she’s done all she can.
Throughout its 26-year history, Dorothy’s organization has touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of women ranging in age from 19 to 97. With a staff of three physicians, 90 employees and hundreds of volunteers, The Rose served almost 35,000 women last year. More than one-third were uninsured.
One of these uninsured women was Elizabeth Stokes, who at age 21, found a lump during a routine self breast-exam. When Elizabeth went for her six-week checkup after having given birth to her son Aiden, she mentioned the lump. Learning that Elizabeth was uninsured, her doctor referred her to The Rose for a no-cost screening. After receiving additional tests, Dr. Dixie Melillo, her physician and co-founder of The Rose, confirmed she had breast cancer.
Elizabeth thought of little blue-eyed Aiden who ultimately inspired her. Debbie, Elizabeth’s mother, confesses her first thought was, “Why not me?” and described the experience as “the hardest thing a parent can see her child go through.”
“My mom never left my side,” the now 23-year-old Elizabeth reports. “She kept telling me, ‘Failure is not an option,’” explained Debbie.
The Rose assisted Elizabeth in accessing the state-funded Medicaid Breast and Cervical Cancer Services Program. Soon she was insured and receiving aggressive rounds of chemotherapy at MD Anderson. She finished her last round March 7, 2011, and was pronounced cancer-free on April 1, 2011
“I had an incentive—I wanted to watch my son grow up,” Elizabeth concluded.
On top of caring for Elizabeth and helping out with her grandson, Debbie plans to continue to be a vocal advocate for The Rose and for young women not having to wait until they are 40 years old to get coverage for mammograms.
Elizabeth decided that her next role was that of student. She’s studying radiology. “I want to be there for breast cancer patients in the future,” she said.
The Rose thrives thanks to the support of donors like Yoplait and the American Cancer Society. Please join them with a contribution and help other uninsured women get the care they need.