Breast Cancer survivor gives back to nonprofit that changed her life
As far as Marian Sparks is concerned, The Rose saved her life.
When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Sparks didn't have the medical insurance necessary to cover her treatment.
The nonprofit organization's co-founder, Dr. Dixie Melillo, assured Sparks that The Rose had her covered.
That's when Sparks made Melillo a promise: When she was well enough, she would help The Rose reach out to other women in needed.
Sparks kept her word. Last fall, she helped create an all women's skydiving event, Jump for The Rose, which raised more than $11,000 for The Rose after expenses.
"The best part of the story was I got to present the check to Dr. Melillo," Sparks said. "She said people tell me all of the time I'm going to do something to help, but no one has done anything like this. It was a teary-eyed moment for both of us."
The Rose, which has locations in southeast Houston and Bellaire, provides mammography and breast cancer screening, treatment and support for low income and uninsured women. Its funding comes from donations and from the revenue generated when insured women have their mammograms at The Rose.
The Jump for The Rose event, held at Skydive Spaceland, drew 38 skydivers who paid $100 each to participate.
The volunteer team they rallied not only arranged for the jump, it put together raffles and a silent auction.
Participants set a state record for the most female skydivers in formation and a national record for the most women in a two-point skydive.
"It was so cool because everyone in the jump got to be in the record," Sparks said.
Their accomplishment was covered in the December issue of Parachutist, published by the U.S. Parachute Association.
Carol Wright, director of development for The Rose, said she was delighted by the response.
"This particular event, for a first-year event, really raised a lot of money," Wright said. "Beyond that, it raises a lot of awareness."
New world view
Sparks was introduced to skydiving in 2006, when she offered to pay for a skydiving adventure for her niece as a graduation gift.
But when they arrived at the skydiving venue Sparks surprised her family, and decided to take a leap of faith herself.
She was hooked immediately. By her second dive, she committed to regular lessons. Five months later, she had her license and was skydiving most weekends. "I felt so alive," she said.
The activity would become a lifeline of sorts two years later, when two major trials struck.
"In 2008 I got divorced and found myself without insurance," Sparks said, adding she was especially frustrated with the prospect of skipping her next mammogram. Her mother is a breast cancer survivor, and Sparks knew her family history put her at greater risk for the disease.
She learned about an opportunity for a free mammogram at San Jacinto Methodist Hospital in Baytown through a client. The American Cancer Society was funding the free screenings. Sparks tested positive.
After a second mammogram, she was told she would need a biopsy. Because of her lack of insurance, the hospital referred her to The Rose.
That's where she would meet Melillo, who diagnosed Sparks with Stage 0 (non-invasive) breast cancer. Sparks could keep the breast, the doctor said, but she did need a lumpectomy. As she spoke to Melillo, Sparks learned uninsured women like her are The Rose's primary focus.
Sparks had her lumpectomy in July 2009.
"The weekend after my surgery I was skydiving," said Sparks, who underwent radiation therapy through December 2009.
"I thought, as long as I can skydive, I can handle this breast cancer thing."
For more information, visit www.the-rose.org and www.jumpfortherose.com, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org,
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