Samantha O’Keefe had every intention of getting her first mammogram when she turned 40. But a year passed. Finally, when she heard someone talk about losing his wife to breast cancer, she vowed to stop putting it off. A week after her mammogram, the imaging center called her back in.
“I knew it was cancer just from their reactions to the ultrasound,” says O’Keefe. “I didn’t have any real symptoms. It kind of caught me off guard.”
Fortunately, she knew who to call: Tina McDonough.
Moved to Act
Three months after Tina McDonough participated in her first three-day, 60-mile Susan G. Komen walk to honor a friend with breast cancer, her friend died. She was only 38. “At her funeral, I just knew I had to do more,” says McDonough.
She formed a small team of walkers from Maple Valley, which quickly grew into two teams comprising 150 walkers in Seattle and San Diego. The group, called Valley Girls & Guys!, is now a nonprofit, and their reach has expanded along with their size. Not only do they walk to raise funds for research, they also provide free mammograms to low-income women across the state and personalized blankets for people with cancer around the world.
As it happens, O’Keefe and her husband had been very active in Valley Girls & Guys! for several years before the diagnosis. They wasted no time, contacting McDonough on the drive home from the imaging center.
“Tina was like, ‘Give me five minutes,’” says O’Keefe. “And within five or 10 minutes, Dr. Ingber was on the phone. He said, ‘Come on in. Let’s do the biopsy.’ They took me under their wings.”
At Valley Medical Center, O’Keefe found the right team. “From my oncologist, Dr. Richard Ingber, to my surgeon, Dr. Tori McFall, I felt like the compassion and the knowledge were there,” she says.
Valley Medical Center was also a fit — a philanthropic fit — for McDonough, who wanted to make a difference closer to home. “There was a feeling gnawing at me that we needed to do something locally,” McDonough says.
So when an opportunity arose to support a new cancer center at Valley Medical Center, McDonough was all in.
Close to Home
“Right now, if you came to Valley Medical Center as a cancer patient, you’d probably have to travel to each corner of our campus, multiple times,” says Gayle Jewett, vice president of ambulatory services at Valley. “Obviously, cancer patients are some of the sickest patients, so all that travel is a waste of energy.”
That’s one of the reasons the hospital is creating a comprehensive cancer center. The center — ground was broken in January 2018 — will provide coordinated, centralized care from multiple specialists, facilitate collaboration among cancer care providers and improve the experience and care of cancer patients.
Valley Girls & Guys! just made a gift to this new cancer center, the biggest gift Valley Medical Center has ever received. “We’re a community hospital,” says Jewett. “Having this active, vocal group invest in our community is very humbling and very much appreciated.”
Neither O’Keefe nor McDonough plan to slow down anytime soon.
“I’ve been doing this for 11 years now, and I’ve lost 13 friends and loved ones. But at the same time, I know we’ve saved a lot of lives,” says McDonough. “There’s hope for the future, and I see it.”