Flamingo-pink carpet lined the path to the Sharon Heights Golf and Country Club in Palo Alto, Calif. – the location of the fifth annual Under One Umbrella benefit for the Stanford Women’s Cancer Center. As I walked into the reception hall, I thought of the phone call that was my introduction to the center several months before.
In March, I tested positive for the HPV virus that can cause cervical cancer and I was scared. Cervical cancer claimed the life of my best friend, and the memory of the day she mentioned that she needed “some testing” is etched in my mind. My phone call to the Stanford Women’s Cancer Center gave me the information and courage I needed to schedule additional testing. “We hope you never need our services,” the receptionist said, “but if you do, we’re here if you need us.”
I ultimately didn’t need the services of the center, but many of the nearly 340 guests in the fundraiser’s reception hall did. For these people, and for many others, the center is a source of medical treatment and hope.
Yet, the center is more than a cancer care facility, as Nicole Kidman, Academy Award-winning actress and honorary chair of the Under One Umbrella committee, explains in the short film above. The center unites medical treatment with cancer research and prevention.
The Under One Umbrella committee supports the cancer center’s efforts, and the annual benefit is a big part of that support. “It brings together an amazing group of people who are interested in furthering research of women’s cancer,” Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the Stanford medical school told me. “It highlights the talents of Stanford researchers and the wonderful job that Jonathan Berek, MD, [the center's director] has done with the center. It also gives us the opportunity to rededicate our commitment to the cause.”
A crucial step of this commitment and care begins when a patient first learns she has cancer. As social worker Jordan Chavez explains in the film, “When patients come in and have a diagnosis of cancer there’s pandemonium, either internal or external. I think a lot of what I do is to provide, hopefully, some stability and some calm amidst a lot of chaos and to normalize what is a very scary experience for patients and for families, and to help them understand that they will not be alone.”
This sense of camaraderie pervaded all aspects of the benefit. As the fundraiser came to a close, the guest of honor, country music star Keith Urban, gave an (outstanding) unplugged, solo concert. As he sang, the cancer survivors, their family members and friends, and the center’s medical experts forgot themselves. They were simply a crowd of fast friends.
As I left the event, I wondered how I could explain the importance of the women’s cancer center to someone who wasn’t a woman with cancer. The answer came to me in the form of an umbrella I carry with me rain or shine.
I know that I won’t need an umbrella most days, but it’s comforting to know that if I do, it will be there to shelter me from the storm.
Holly MacCormick is a writing intern in the medical school’s Office of Communication & Public Affairs. She is a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology at University of California-Santa Cruz.
Previously: Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood help fundraising effort for Women’s Cancer Center at Stanford, Stanford expert weighs in on ovarian-cancer screening recommendation, What’s 1,454 feet tall, glows pink and sounds like country music?, Stanford Women’s Cancer Center opens Monday and Wellness after cancer: Stanford opens clinic to address survivors’ needs
Video, Embracing the Challenge, from Friday’s Films