When I moved back to New York in 2010, I realized so many of my friends were being diagnosed with breast cancer. I had been the lead breast cancer Radiation Oncologist at Indiana University and felt a strong commitment to focus on women’s health. Several of my peers were undergoing treatment, and these were both young women and women of color. As serious as it was, no one was talking about it; everyone was still whispering the word “cancer.” The whispering needed to stop, but what I had to figure out was, how do you make such a scary word like "cancer" OK to say and survivorship OK to celebrate? That is when the seed for starting a breast cancer nonprofit focusing on young women and women of color in survivorship was planted.
Initially we planned to raise money for larger nonprofit organizations, but we felt that we had a network that would support our vision, so why not start our own nonprofit? Keep in mind, we had no nonprofit experience, but we were eager to make a difference and be of service. Failure was not an option; all that I was missing was a name. My patients were always commenting on my love for shoes, heels in particular, so a good friend of mine suggested we play on that, and Kicked It In Heels was born.
The first year we hosted our Kicked It In Heels benefit, we were so nervous that no one would come and that the topic would chase people away. We were so inexperienced and only had one or two sponsors, so I wrote a check out of my pocket to cover the difference for hosting the event because I strongly felt that this topic needed attention. The support we got at the benefit was amazing. We had such a great turnout, and that alone validated that we were on the right path. As Kicked It In Heels started to grow, we learned as we went along, from becoming a registered 501c3, to forming a board ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work.
We recently hosted our 6th Annual Fundraiser, where we honored Malcolm D. Lee and Dawn Baxter. Malcolm is a writer/producer/director whose work includes the likes of Girl’s Trip and the recent number one film, Night School. We wanted to honor Malcolm because his family has been impacted by breast cancer, and as a result, Malcolm chooses to use his movies as his platform to raise awareness and bring humanity to the disease.
Our other honoree, Dawn Baxter, an accomplished Marketing Executive at Nike, is not only a breast cancer survivor but a wife, mother, sister, daughter and friend. Dawn was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine screening mammogram and was able to share her journey in a way that resonated and was tangible. To see Dawn thrive and tell her story, and to see Malcolm express his experience with breast cancer on the big screen, are such inspiring and humble gifts. Ultimately, Malcolm and Dawns’ story can save lives.
Another facet of our mission was to start conducting disparity-based research. Young women and women of color have worst breast cancer outcomes when compared to their peers. Part of the reason for that is because these populations are not always well represented in breast cancer clinical trials, and we were determined to address that with our disparity based research. Our first study was conducted in partnership with Mount Sinai; it was a literacy study asking women what they understood about breast density. Since then, we’ve also completed the Beauty Shop Initiative where we asked stylists to speak to their clients about breast cancer and screening. With this year’s initiative, we are evolving and are super excited to work with a technology company for our next research project.
I’m proud of what the board and Kicked It In Heels has accomplished so far, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. The work is never finished and we’re only just getting started. Our continued hope is that our platform continues to grow until it is a national nonprofit so that we may reach a much broader audience to start and continue the dialogue.Visit KickedItInHeels.com to see how you can be a part of our mission!