Voices of Impact – Dr. Michelle Gaskins-Craig
“I truly believe that one woman can make an impact and save the lives of women who are often voiceless.”
“My journey as a breast cancer patient reinforced the importance of patient-centered and culturally competent health care. I made a promise to become a good doctor, for my sister, but surviving breast cancer made me the best doctor I can be for my patients.”
“This year my journey came full circle when I was honored to be nominated by the DC Pink Divas and selected as the 2013 Susan G. Komen Survivor of the Year.”
For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a doctor. I was determined to save the lives of girls in my community. You see, while growing up in South East Washington, DC I lost my sister at just three years old. My sister was born with a heart condition the doctors in our community could not treat and at only four years old she suffered a stroke and died. My mother says it took me two years to realize that my big sister would never come home to play with me again and from that moment on, I vowed to be a doctor to make sure no more little girls went to heaven.
True to my promise, I graduated as salutatorian of Ballou High School’s Math and Science program in Washington, DC and continued on to Howard University Medical School in 1988. After graduating from Howard, I set out to help serve women in my community as a family medicine physician. Then after years of rewarding practice, I found myself on the other side of the conversation I’ve had with many patients. At 41 years old, my doctor informed me the 4.5 cm mass in my left breast was stage 2 cancer. I was not prepared for what was to come, but I was once again resolute not to let death win. I put on a brave face for my three young children, who were afraid their mommy was going to die, and for my own mother; I did not want her to have to face burying another daughter. I held strong to my faith and was unwavering in my mission to beat cancer.
As a single mother, I had to still provide for my three children and continued working during my six months of chemotherapy and seven weeks of radiation. Then, like many of my patients, I too lost my hair, my eyelashes, my eyebrows, my appetite and my ability to taste. Although I was a physician, I never once anticipated how upsetting the loss of my hair would be. Later on when I had a mastectomy, I remember how different I felt as a woman. From that point on, I tailored my mission to empower breast cancer patients, because all too often health care providers do not understand the challenges breast cancer patients endure.
My journey as a breast cancer patient reinforced the importance of patient-centered and culturally competent health care. I made a promise to become a good doctor, for my sister, but surviving breast cancer made me the best doctor I can be for my patients. Now I am always sure to make eye contact, I don’t worry about going over the standard “15 minutes” and I listen to what my patients say and what they do not say because that’s what I needed but never received. From day one of this journey many people including health professionals assumed “I knew everything” and after my first experience with an unexpected chemotherapy side effect, I learned to ask questions.
Today, after 25 years of practice, and 11 years as a Survivor, I continue to serve my community by volunteering to support women through cancer treatment and educate women in the Greater Washington DC Area. As a member of DC Pink Divas, a Susan G. Komen-funded community-based patient navigation and outreach program, I educate and empower women in my community to improve health outcomes. Daily, I provide primary care to low-income patients in the Anacostia area of DC, just blocks from where my sister and I grew up.
This year my journey came full circle when I was honored to be nominated by DC Pink Divas and selected as the Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure 2013 Survivor of the Year. To be chosen by a committee of breast cancer survivors and past participants in the Race for the Cure was truly humbling. This year has truly been a culminating life experience as I have been afforded the opportunity to greater impact my community among an extended network of “sisters.” I am dedicated to sharing my story to empower more women to take control of their health and save lives in our community.
This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I honor my sister and the countless women lost in our community due to lack of education and barriers to adequate health care. I truly believe that one woman can make an impact and save the lives of women who are often voiceless. I am a community doctor, a DC Pink Diva, and a Komen Survivor of the Year because I work to insure that where you live does not determine if you live. Susan G. Komen’s mission is my mission: to educate women and prevent women from dying from breast cancer. I am Susan G. Komen.
About the author
Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever. In 1982, that promise became Susan G. Komen and launched the global breast cancer movement. Today, Komen is the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures. Thanks to events like the Komen Race for the Cure®, we have invested more than $1.9 billion to fulfill our promise, becoming the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.