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Published: Monday, 4/11/2005

Cancer survivor aids others with low-profile style

BY LUKE SHOCKMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
'There has to be a reason I'm here. I want to help other people,' says Anita Jacobs of Oregon, who has survived breast cancer. 'There has to be a reason I'm here. I want to help other people,' says Anita Jacobs of Oregon, who has survived breast cancer.
ZAPOTOSKY / BLADE Enlarge

She hates public speaking, her face isn't on TV or a billboard, and she loathes anyone drawing attention to her.

And yet, in any advocacy movement, there are those like breast cancer survivor Anita Jacobs.

She's the one who quietly does the little things like taking a call from a mother newly diagnosed with cancer who wonders if she'll live to her child's next birthday. She's the one who pesters co-workers, friends, and strangers for money for the annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and ends up raising more funds than anyone else. She's the one who volunteers to call women at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center about to have a mastectomy and offers advice.

"Most people don't know she does all this stuff behind the scenes," her friend and co-worker Nancy Zink marveled.

"She's a phenomenal person. She's become a key resource of someone others can pick up the phone and call," agreed her boss, Buzz Hermann.

Ms. Jacobs, 46, of Oregon, gets a little embarrassed at talk like that.

"There has to be a reason I'm here. I want to help other people," she said.

After all, she adds, it's a miracle she's here in the first place.

Eight years ago, she and her husband, Jeffrey, were thrilled when after 15 years of waiting, their son, Joshua, was born. But a month after the delivery, a pain in one of her breasts forced her to see a doctor for an evaluation. A biopsy revealed it was an aggressive and advanced form of breast cancer.

She asked her doctor what her chances were: "He told me, 'You don't want to know.' "

She and her husband prayed for a miracle, and she began undergoing intensive treatment. Four rounds of chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant, an excruciating hospital stay, and 27 doses of radiation therapy soon followed.

"I lost every bit of hair and I can't even tell you how sick I was," she said.

Through it all, her husband, friends, family, and co-workers at St. Vincent's cardiovascular department where she's a secretary were there for her.

Finally, a year later she began to feel good again and after several years she got the news from her doctor she had been waiting to hear: "He finally said, 'You're cured.' "

Her doctor was so amazed at her success he wanted to nominate her for a television promotion of "miracle" cancer survivors. No, she told him, that's too much attention. Instead, she began to volunteer, both formally and informally.

Pat Buscani, who coordinates cancer support services at St. Vincent, helps line up the patients for Ms. Jacobs to call.

"Sometimes people are very anxious, and they may not know anyone who's had breast cancer. To talk to Anita, it really boosts their morale and helps them realize people do survive breast cancer," Ms. Buscani said. "And I know she also talks to other people after someone says, 'Oh, you need to talk to Anita.' "

It's that informal help that's just as important to Ms. Jacobs, who estimates she takes a couple of phone calls every week from those who have heard her story and are told to call her. Ms. Buscani was so impressed with all of this quiet, behind-the-scenes effort that she nominated Ms. Jacobs as the cancer survivor at the annual, local Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Last year, Ms. Jacobs was chosen.

She isn't done yet. In December, she became secretary of the Northwest Ohio Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure committee. She takes the minutes. It's quiet work, not very visible. And yet, it suits her.

Contact Luke Shockman at: lshockman@theblade.com or 419-724-6084.



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