Saving Lives in South Dakota: Dr. Salerno Visits Local Affiliate

Guest post by Meagan Huisman, Affiliate Coordinator at Komen South Dakota.

Last weekend, Komen South Dakota was proud to host CEO and President Dr. Judy Salerno for an exciting and impactful tour of our state. Our objective was to show Dr. Salerno the impressive health services and breast cancer research being done in South Dakota, and also illustrate the disparities in breast cancer detection and treatment arising from South Dakota’s frontier nature.

Dr. Judy Salerno & Komen South Dakota staff, Mary Kolsrud (Executive Director) and Meagan Huisman (Affiliate Coordinator)

Dr. Salerno’s visit began in Sioux Falls where she joined Komen South Dakota staff and board members as they met with leaders from the two large health systems in the city. At our first meeting with Avera Health, we met with breast cancer researchers, patient navigators and doctors to see the impressive work they are doing and discuss how we can work together in collaboration to help more women and men throughout the state who may be struggling with access to quality care.

After our visit with Avera, Dr. Salerno and the Komen South Dakota team facilitated a press conference to spread the news throughout the community about how Komen is making an impact in our state by announcing our local grantees, highlighting the Komen-funded researchers in Sioux Falls, and addressing the need for more services across the state. Salerno stated, “We can do better. We must do better. And, we’re working very hard as an organization with our health systems to make improvements in those statistics.”

In the afternoon, we capped our tour of Sioux Falls with a visit to the Sanford Breast Health Institute and Research Center. Dr. Salerno was able to see first-hand the work Komen-funded researcher Dr. Kristi Egland is doing to generate a blood test for breast cancer, and to use the immune system of a patient as a bio-sensor. A breast cancer survivor herself, Dr. Egland is passionate to find the cures for breast cancer, saying, “Every day that I wake up, I’m able to continue the battle to fight against breast cancer. I know why I’m doing the research. And, the questions I’m asking are the questions I had when I went through the process.”

After a successful day of tours and meetings, Dr. Salerno and Komen South Dakota staff and board members loaded into a van and headed to the west side of the state to continue our tour. The five hour drive was insightful for Dr. Salerno as she grasped the true vastness of our state and felt what it may be like as a cancer patient, traveling two to three hours just to get treatment.

Pink Promise Lunch. Mary Kolsrud and Rod Goeman (Board President) at podium

The next morning, the team geared up for the highlight of our weekend: our inaugural Pink Promise Lunch in Rapid City. The morning was heartwarming and inspiring. Survivors, co-survivors and community members gathered together to hear special stories, an educational lecture, and a moving  keynote message from Dr. Salerno. We laughed; we cried; we felt inspired. It was agreed that our first event on the west side of the state was an astounding success. We are excited to continue to grow and find a way to provide every woman and man access to quality care in South Dakota.

Next, we whisked Dr. Salerno to the John T. Vucurivich Cancer Care Institute in Rapid City to witness the impressive work they are doing through a Komen-funded program “Healing Pathways” which provides travel assistance to the Cancer Care Institute to women living in rural areas. Not only is transportation, food and lodging provided to women sometimes traveling over 100 miles each way, they also have the option of attending a Survivorship program to support them through their journey.

We ended an amazing and inspiring day with a tour through the beautiful Black Hills to Mt. Rushmore, the Crazy Horse monument, and the historic town of Deadwood. We are so grateful to Dr. Salerno for spending time with us in South Dakota and for the opportunity to reach out to all parts of our state and create valuable relationships.

An additional note from Dr. Salerno regarding the trip:

“I was pleased to make the trip – South Dakotans made me feel very welcome and the work being done by our Affiliate and Komen researchers there is inspiring. Thank you for an educational few days.”



About the author

Susan G. Komen has written 342 articles for Susan G. Komen® | Blog

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.