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Updated 5:00 PM October 25, 2005




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  Ring in the Cure Dec. 31
Survivor and mother to give something back with CCC event

For doctoral student Suzanne Perkins, a small nudge turned out to be a big wakeup call.
(Photo by Esther Epple)

While holding her 3-year-old daughter, Eliza, in 2003, Perkins accidentally was elbowed in the left breast by her youngest child. The pain did not go away for more than 20 minutes, Perkins says. She knew something was wrong.

After consulting with doctors, Perkins was referred to the Comprehensive Cancer Center (CCC), where she received an unexpected diagnosis—breast cancer.

"I was very shocked and concerned about my children and who was going to take care of them," Perkins says. Her son, Aidan, was 5 at the time. "I, like most people, assumed I was not at particularly high risk for breast cancer because I don't have a family history of it."

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer among U.S. women. More than 200,000 women are diagnosed with the disease annually and 40,000 die from it every year.

Perkins is a survivor. Cancer-free after a successful mastectomy, breast reconstruction and chemotherapy, she is less than a year away from completing her doctorate in the education and psychology joint program. She holds a master of education degree from Harvard University and bachelor's degree from Hampshire College.

Perkins says she was five years away from the age at which women are advised to begin regular mammograms when she received the diagnosis. But her experience highlights one of the messages of Breast Cancer Awareness Month—if a woman feels like something might be wrong, she should get checked out immediately. Perkins said 75 percent of women who have breast cancer have no obvious risk factors.

"I was very lucky to have found it when it was so small," Perkins says. "When I first found out, of course, I was worried that I might die. But, I always thought I would do whatever it took to get rid of it, and would find the best treatment so I could be there for my kids."

Her desire to do something more in the battle against breast cancer led Perkins to create the Ring in the Cure New Year's Eve Ball. A benefit for the CCC, the ball will begin at 9 p.m. Dec. 31 in the Michigan Union Ballroom and wrap up during the wee hours of 2006.

The event will heighten awareness of the role of the CCC within the community, raise money for research and patient services, and bring the Ann Arbor community together for celebration on the eve of a new year, she says.

Tickets for the ball, which will feature a 16-piece swing orchestra and dance lessons, desserts, champagne and silent auction, are $100 per person and will go on sale during a kickoff event 5-7 p.m. Oct. 28 at Salon in the City in Ann Arbor.

Tickets also will be available at the Michigan Union Ticket Office and online at:

Perkins says she wants to give something back to a place she says made a difference in her treatment.

"I have connected with a whole bunch of wonderful people that I never would have met," Perkins says. "You realize that you are comparatively in good shape, and other people are struggling with much more difficult things than you are."

Perkins returns to the CCC every three months and has a yearly mammogram.

"Trust your gut if you think something is wrong," is her advice. "If you are getting nervous, don't let anyone tell you that it is probably nothing and to just wait and see what happens."

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