Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis in January 2000 was a terrifying déjà vu for 38-year-old Joann Harkins.
She had watched her mother die from the disease at age 43 and feared she would suffer the same fate. But her fears gave way to hope when she arrived at MD Anderson.
Harkins found herself under the care of Robert C. Bast, M.D., vice president for Translational Research and professor of Experimental Therapeutics, and advance practice nurse Mary Hernandez. They launched a strategic attack against Harkins’ condition: stage 3B inflammatory breast cancer with lymph node involvement.
Harkins learned that hers is the deadliest type of breast cancer, with a survival rate of only 15% with standard treatment. She quickly entered a research protocol treatment that increased her survival rate to 45%.
Today Harkins is cancer-free.
Having grown up in Central Texas, Harkins was aware of the Cattlemen for Cancer Research, an organization founded by a group of compassionate and generous Central Texans.
Cattlemen for Cancer Research is dedicated to supporting cancer research at MD Anderson’s Michale E. Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine and Research near Bastrop. Harkins began supporting the organization’s annual fundraising auction and in 2007 was named the Cattlemen for Cancer Research Honorary Cancer Survivor.
Harkins never forgot her lifesaving treatment at MD Anderson or the staff who stood by her side. When she heard about the Cattlemen for Cancer Research Hero Award, established in 2010 to honor an MD Anderson clinician or scientist for outstanding contributions to the care of patients from Central Texas, Harkins followed her heart and nominated Bast, also recognizing Hernandez as part of an “awesome team.”
“They were always very kind and caring,” says Harkins.
Bast is humble when asked about the honor and insists on sharing it with Hernandez.
“Mary and I are deeply grateful to the Cattlemen for Cancer Research,” he says. “But in truth, our patients are the heroes and heroines. Their courage, endurance, equanimity and good humor inspire us every day.”