Breast cancer survivor and health advocate serves as 2016 Race for the Cure® Honorary Chair



(L) Donna Polk, 2016 Race for the Cure Honorary Chair, meets with 2015 Volunteer of the year, Linda Gill.

Dr. Donna Polk wants to get the word out. She encourages women to be advocates for their health, get preventive screenings and encourage friends and family to do the same.

“I know what people think,” says the CEO, Nebraska Urban Indian Health Coalition, “they think ‘I don’t need bad news.’ Polk says she understands this very well as she was afraid of cancer most of her life.

After an early cancer scare as a young mother, when a physician indicated her life was on the line if she didn’t follow his surgical recommendation, Polk advocated for herself and sought a second opinion. Surgery wasn’t required and another form of treatment brought her back to health. Several years later, her father was diagnosed with cancer.

During a successful career in social advocacy and health care spanning more than two decades, Polk was faced with being a patient. In 2013, a breast cancer diagnosis left her humbled and afraid.

At the insistence of her provider, Polk went in for her annual mammogram. She knew something was wrong when they called her back right away. She was scared. It wasn’t until Polk met her care team, including Dr. Ken Cowan at the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, that she felt some relief.

“Dr. Cowan put his hand on my shoulder and told me ‘We’re going to get this’ and then continued to discuss my treatment and clinical trials available,” Polk continued. She felt a huge sense of relief knowing she had a team of experienced doctors on her side who listened to her questions and concerns.

Polk is a strong advocate for increasing mammography, especially for underserved women, in a way that reduces barriers of travel and time. She also encourages patients to have a support network—anyone who can go with you to appointments to take notes and offer comfort. For women of color, Polk encourages them to look into clinical trials where long-term historical data on Black/African American women is lacking. Polk is honored to serve as this year’s Race for the Cure Honorary Chair and looks forward to raising funds to help Nebraskans facing breast cancer.