Mary Damsgaard calls her sisters her lifeline, her reason to continue her fight against cancer.
"We’re a band of sisters who are there for each other, no matter where you are in your life. They motivate me to keep fighting and keep praying,” says Damsgaard. “We’ve created a place where you can bare your soul and get the support you need in an instant. We’ve created a safe place to share our deepest concerns and celebrate life’s blessings."
After experiencing severe lower back pains, Damsgaard had an MRI and was diagnosed with stage IV small cell cervical cancer (SCCC). She sought a second opinion and treatment at MD Anderson, where her research led her to the SCCC/LCCC (large cell cervical cancer) Sisters. SCCC and LCCC make up a rare subtype of cervical cancer.
“The few resources I could find were through MD Anderson. This is how I found the Sisters,” says Damsgaard.
In February the SCCC/LCCC Sisterhood waged a bet with Michael Frumovitz, M.D., associate professor, Gynecologic Oncology, who leads MD Anderson’s SCCC/LCCC research team. If they could raise $20,000 in one month, Frumovitz would have to ride a zip-line on the Las Vegas Strip during the Sisters’ annual gathering. With the support of family and friends, the Sisters raised more than $23,000 in the allotted time, and Frumovitz made good on his promise.
Those funds contributed to a combined donation of $300,000, which the Sisters presented to Frumovitz and his team this spring. The donation will go to the Small Cell Cervical Cancer Fund at MD Anderson. So far the fund has been used to develop an educational website and create a worldwide tumor registry to help determine the best treatments for women with SCCC/LCCC.
Members of the support group are united in their fight against these two extremely rare and aggressive forms of cervical cancer. The sisterhood’smore than 180 members range in age from 20 to 60 years old and come from all over the world. Of the 11,000 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in the U.S. each year, approximately 100 cases will be small cell or large cell.
“One hundred people a year doesn’t sound like very many, until you’re one of those 100 people,” says Damsgaard. “We hope the lessons learned through this research can be replicated across many rare cancers.”