Brooks to chair Champions of Hope

Sandy Brooks was a busy young mother of two small children 5632SandyBrooks310x153 when life threw her a curve just before Christmas of 2002.

At 26 years old, Brooks was diagnosed with breast cancer, had a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, before eventually having a double mastectomy after testing positive for the BRCA2 cancer gene.

"Doctors traced my tumor growth to my teens. I was shocked," Brooks said. "When I found out, my whole family loaded up and went to the surgeon's office. The doctor had us all in the exam room and said, 'This is what we're dealing with.'"

The Cottonwood native, who is this year's chairman for the Sandi McCool Champions of Hope, first noticed something was amiss in her breast while breastfeeding her infant daughter, Callie. Her son, Cade, was three at the time.

"I noticed my daughter was not nursing well on the left side. I thought I had a blocked milk duct. One month later my lump had doubled in size. The OBGYN thought I had a fluid-filled cyst. He tried to aspirate it and when he couldn't, he sent me for a mammogram."

A biopsy confirmed the worst. "I was told to find an oncologist."

Brooks had six rounds of chemotherapy in early 2003 in Dothan, followed by a lumpectomy and 36 radiation treatments with radiation oncologist Steve Stokes, MD, at Southeast Cancer Center. She was interested in the genetic link so she was tested, and confirmed positive for the BRCA2 gene.

Heeding her doctor's advice about being proactive, Brooks decided on a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction. It was a big step for such a young woman. While she feels relieved, the genetic link hangs over her.

"My mother has tested positive. At the advice of her physicians, she had a hysterectomy and has had no problems. She continues to have regular mammograms for early detection. My children can be tested when they are 18."

According to the National Cancer Institute, a woman's lifetime risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer is greatly increased if she inherits a harmful mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2.

Breast cancer was a life-changing event. "It changed everything," Brooks said. "I changed how I eat. How I feed my children. My relationships and friendships changed. Everything changed."

Since her diagnosis and treatment, Brooks has been healthy and cancer-free, but continues to fight for other women. She is an advocate for breast cancer patients, catering to their physical needs at the business, 2 Girls and a Spa, which she operates with her partner Charlene Commerford. The two started the business in 2009.

"I got into massage to help with scar tissue release," she said. "I wanted to help relieve pain specifically for cancer patients."

Brooks met Commerford at a breast cancer walk where Brooks showed up to give free massages to those participating in the 80-mile walk. It was Brooks' way of thanking the participants for raising awareness about breast cancer. The two can also be heard together on 106.7 KMX where they host the popular morning radio show 2 Girls and a Mic, which launched a year ago.

Being asked to chair this year's Champions of Hope is special for Brooks, in that she was personal friends with founding chairman Sandi McCool and has always helped at the event.

"She was a dear, dear friend of mine," said Brooks. "It is emotional, but a true honor, to be able to take part in this. I am honored to do it for Sandi but it is difficult because she is not here."

McCool died of breast cancer in November 2011 at the age of 37.

Brooks, who shares her journey with clients at the spa and listeners on the radio, will do whatever it takes to encourage women as they struggle with this disease.

"I've been able to reach people about something that changes you from the inside out. My experience has been like a shedding of skin. For me, getting breast cancer was a shocker because I was so young."

Champions of Hope, started seven years ago by the Southeast Alabama Medical Center Foundation, has been extremely successful in raising funds to expand cancer services and programs offered by SAMC. More than $582,000 has been raised.

"I am proud of this area. There are so many resources and so much support. We have changed the mindset of the diagnosis," Brooks said.

"Champions of Hope has turned around the way people think about breast cancer. There is hope. The diagnosis age seems younger and younger but it's not as scary as it used to be. Women are more educated. The Sandi McCool Champions of Hope event has helped women feel less isolated and alone. The breast cancer struggle is 70 percent mental."

Champions of Hope is Saturday, Oct. 18 on the campus of the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine (ACOM), located just off U.S. 84 East. There will be a 5k and a 10k race, a spirit walk and a Kid Fit Challenge. All Both races and the walk begin at 8 a.m. Day-of-event non-competitive registration begins at 6 a.m. For more information, contact the foundation at or call 334 673-4150.

SAMC nurses honored for excellence

SAMC hosted a ceremony for 29 registered nurses last week who received the 5761NursingAward310x153 Alabama State Nurses Association's (ANSA) prestigious Citation of Excellence Award. The award was established to recognize outstanding service and exceptional commitment to the profession of nursing. Tammy Smith, RN (far left), director of the Family Birth Center, is the president of ASNA District 5 which represents 19 counties in southeast Alabama.

Smith said, "To hear the stories behind each one of these recipients and why they were selected truly made me feel honored to work with such wonderful nurses. We are very fortunate to have so many dedicated and inspiring nurses here at SAMC.

Arlene Morris, Ed. D., MSN, RN, CNE, state president of ASNA, traveled from Montgomery to commend the recipients for their awards. Diane Buntyn, RN, vice president, Patient Care Services, currently serves as statewide vice president for ASNA.

They are: Joan Allis, RN, BSN, Same-Day Surgery; Jan Bruner, RN, Cardiovascular Services; Tanya Burris, RN, Orthopedics; Kelly Clayton, RN, Cardiology; Teri Colquett, RN, Oncology; Krystle Doty, RN, BSN, Critical Care; Georgiana Faulk, RN, Oncology; Beth Glover, RN, MSN, CNS, CNL, Family Birth Center; Kathy Hester, RN, BSN, Orthopedics; Heather Hinkle, RN, Urology/Nephrology; Kazuko Holmes, RN, Orthopedics; Kachiri Jackson, RN, BSN, Neurology/Neurosurgery; Andrea Jett, RN, Houston Prenatal Clinic; Marie Johnson, RN, Family Birth Center; Robin Kibler, RN, Urology/Nephrology; Keitha Madrie, RN, IBCLC, Family Birth Center; Chris McCauley, RN, Orthopedics; Ashley Murdock, RN, BSN, Urology/Nephrology; Beverly Kosik, RN, Oncology; My An Pham, RN, BSN, Cardiovascular Services; Tabitha Quillet, RN, Pediatrics; Jennifer Rydberg, RN, Cardiology; Ann Sherman, RN, Critical Care; Carolyn Smith, RN, Orthopedics; Tyler Stanley, RN, Critical Care; Ashley Taylor, RN, Orthopedics; Renece Waller-Wise, RN, MSN, CNS, Family Birth Center; Haley Watkins, RN, Family Birth Center; Tina Wisdom, RN, BSN, Pediatrics.

To nominate a nurse that you believe deserves the award, visit and honor a nurse today.

SAMC offering single-site robotic procedures

The SAMC Surgical Services department recently introduced a new robotic procedure 4594daVinciInstruments310x153 for gall bladder patients. Known as single-site robotic cholecystectomy, the procedure uses a small incision rather than a large open incision or multiple small incisions for a traditional robotic surgery.

The single-site robotic surgery is made possible due to the development of more flexible, smaller diameter surgical instruments which can now be placed through a single incision near the patient's navel.

Chris Holland, RN, director of Surgical Services, says there are fewer surgical incisions to heal, high patient satisfaction rates and minimal pain.

The first single-site cholecystectomy was performed by Jeffrey Whitehurst, MD, general surgery, in January. Holland plans to introduce single-site hysterectomies later this month, when Praful Patel, MD, OB/GYN will perform the operation on a patient.