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Breast cancer survivor builds a network of partners

Allison Hendricks-Smith, center, gets hugs from members of the Pink Warrior House board. At left is Amy Liota, secretary. At right is Jamie Schwebach, president. (Courtesy of Arlene Espinoza-Armijo)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — She talks quickly, as if she were concerned she will run out of time to say all she needs to say.

Not long ago, Allison Hendricks-Smith had good reason to be concerned.

She was 40 when she had her first mammogram, in February 2018.

“Sure enough, they found cancer in my left breast,” she said. “They told me it was stage 2 postpartum invasive ductal carcinoma, and here I am, a new mommy, and I hadn’t had any symptoms.”

It was, she said, the worst day for her and husband, Chris Smith. But it was not the last day.

To give herself a fighting chance, to get herself more time, Hendricks-Smith deployed the skills that have served her well in her 14 years as a nonprofit organization leader: Surround yourself with good people, fight like hell, keep smiling, never stop.

Six months of chemotherapy, a lumpectomy to remove three tumors, a mastectomy, 25 rounds of radiation treatment over seven weeks, a change in diet, an increase in exercise, daily journaling and as many positive thoughts as she could muster later, Hendricks-Smith appears to have beaten the cancer. And she did that while raising a toddler and taking only a week off from her job as executive director of the Christina Kent Early Childhood Center.

Still, it’s not what she did but what she couldn’t do, at least not easily, that she wants to talk about now.

“Through my whole journey, I found a lack of meaningful breast cancer supports here in Albuquerque,” she said. “Or there were a few services but splintered, not all in one place, and sometimes you had to search around for them. I know that when raising a child, working full time and fighting breast cancer there’s only so much time.”

She imagined a hub, a one-stop shopping center, a community for services and supports readily accessible from the day of diagnosis – everything from support groups, art therapy, yoga, meditation, mindfulness classes, nutritional supports, a wig exchange and special gym access. It would be a place where a newly diagnosed woman could be paired with a “battle buddy,” a veteran breast cancer survivor. It would be collaborative, not competitive, bringing together the services and people already out there serving the breast cancer community.

It would be called Pink Warrior House.

So Hendricks-Smith started talking, reaching out to the good people who could make her vision a reality. She fought like hell, obtaining 501(c)(3) nonprofit status for the project in May and quitting her job this summer to devote full-time to the project. She kept smiling as members of the community committed to the cause.

And she hasn’t stopped yet.

“It’s such a generous and beautiful partnership coming together for this cause,” she said. “I’m just in awe of it all.”

The list of partners is impressive, not just because of who they are and the companies they represent, but because of the selfless spirit in which they have all come together to create the community behind Pink Warrior House.

Many of the partners were present Tuesday for the first of three Dash and Drink for Pink events, a quick fun run around the host brewpub topped off with a celebratory special pint.

Tuesday’s event was at High and Dry Brewing. A second will be held Sunday at Canteen Brewhouse, and a third will be at Steel Bender Brewyard on Oct. 28.

All three breweries have created specialty beers, with a portion of the proceeds being donated to Pink Warrior House.

Other partners include Lilly Barrack Jewelry, Rude Boy Cookies, Hollow Spirits Distillery, Flying Star Nob Hill, Just the Best Produce, Heart and Sole Sports, Duke Track Club, Midtown Sports and Wellness, the Yarn Store at Nob Hill and Sharing Our Gifts.

Most of the companies are donating parts of the proceeds from special purchases through October, which not coincidentally is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

It’s also the month Hendricks-Smith celebrates her first year since being declared cancer-free.

She said she thinks that because of the generosity she has found within the community the Pink Warrior House will be in full gear by early next year. Already, renovation plans are underway for the “house” part of the project, on the grounds of the Painted Lady Bed and Brew, 1100 Bellamah NW.

“I feel so blessed,” she said, smiling and hugging well-wishers at High and Dry. “I’m just feeling so moved by the community wanting to come together with so much of mission and intention.”

Another hug, a round of thanks and she was off again, smiling, unstoppable.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

 

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