A 2nd Act: The Pinky Swear

Bringing health to more Arizona women

A favorite game in our household is Memory. After laying out cards facedown, you flip them over two                    at a time to make a match. The player with the most matching pairs at the end wins. Of course, you have to remember the location of the cards that weren’t a match to create those pairs. It’s a challenge, but the victory is worth it.

Discovering a second act is very similar. Events in our lives seem like unrelated mysteries until they’re matched with their purpose. Sometimes it takes years to unravel; other times, the discovery is early and obvious. The latter describes Tina Brown’s second act.

After graduating from the Scottsdale Leadership program, Brown accepted a job with Planned Parenthood Arizona. In 2006, at an all-organization meeting, she happened to sit next to Tysha Hill. Although the two women didn’t know one another well, Hill confided that she had  been diagnosed with the rare and aggressive triple-negative breast cancer. Brown was moved by Hill’s need to tell someone, even a relative stranger. The two became close friends during the next year, the short span of time before Hill’s disease took her life.

“I knew nothing about breast cancer,” Brown said. “But we had made a pinky promise to fight it, especially among African Americans. Black women die more often of it than other races, due in part because they’re often diagnosed at later stages. There are cultural issues that get in the way, too, and a great lack of knowledge about the disease in our community. When Tysha died, I made up my mind to do something in her honor.”

And that was it. That was the match between Brown’s desire to make sure Hill hadn’t died in vain and her passion to make a difference in the world around her. Her first step was to contact Susan G. Komen Arizona, and it wasn’t long before she was asked to join the board. 

“Awareness is one thing,” Brown said, “but I learned what was really needed were tools that would help African Americans learn how to keep healthy, and what to do next if they received a cancer diagnosis.”

We’re all familiar with “Pinktober,” the month when everything from NFL uniforms to yogurt containers is adorned with pink ribbons. However, cancer doesn’t pay attention to calendars; women need screenings throughout the year. Brown’s goal was to make sure there was awareness every day and mammograms available to all women every year. With a grant from Komen, she created the Pink 365 Campaign. She went to mammogram events wearing pink boxing gloves to encourage all women to get screened annually. Even Cardinals player Larry Fitzgerald got on board, sending donations for women without insurance.

Unfortunately, Planned Parenthood began scaling back, and Brown was laid off. On her last day of work, she received a call from Assured Imaging, the leading provider of mobile digital mammography in the country, including Arizona. Would she be willing to join forces with them in a paid position? And would she allow her image to be part of the new design on all of their mobile mammography units and collateral material? 

Brown laughs about that offer. “I was shocked. And of course, I said yes!” And then, another shoe dropped. Brown was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. “I was struggling mentally and physically,” she said. “I realized I couldn’t be of use to anyone else until I took care of myself. I stepped away from Assured Imaging, and once I had my health under control, I was ready to reengage my love of advocacy.”

Arizona Complete Health was the next beneficiary of Brown’s energies. Their mission is “transforming the health of a community one person at a time,” which certainly fits Brown’s mission as well. They, too, use coaches, and Brown’s job is to coordinate their mobile health program. The wonder and miracles in her days are ever-flowing.

“After hundreds of events, it never gets old,” Brown said. “Even if the wait is a little longer than I’d like. Even in the heat of summer, no one leaves. Sometimes Hispanic women have no other option for a mammogram. Although they don’t speak English, they don’t leave without thanking me.”

Other women whose mammogram reveals cancer reach out to her, convinced if it hadn’t been for her or the mobile event, they might have died. They ask what other resources she can refer them to.

“It’s very humbling. But I believe being a bridge between health services and women in need is where I’m supposed to be,” Brown said. “It’s the best way for me to make good on the pinky swear I made with Tysha. I hope she thinks so too.” 

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