Each year, nearly 4,000 women in Arizona are diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Within hours of learning of their diagnoses, all 4,000 women — our mothers, sisters and daughters — will be charged with making life-altering decisions,” says Dr. Coral Quiet of Arizona Breast Cancer Specialists in Scottsdale.
Here is one brave Scottsdale woman’s inspiring story.
In 2000, Mary Purkiss was a busy mom who co-owned a successful group of call centers with her hubby. Their center allowed them to travel the world and help oversee the careers of more than 500 employees. They even had an on-site “store” in their centers that sold fun incentives and gifts, including high-end jewelry made by Purkiss herself, where employees could spend “funny money” earned for a job well done. Of course, her jewelry sold out on a regular basis.
On the evening of the couple’s annual holiday party for their staff, they were getting ready when Purkiss’ hubby noticed a lump in her breast. He urged her to feel it — it had never been there before.
Somehow, both scared, they made it through the holiday party. When she visited her doctor, she ended up having to have a needle biopsy.
“Still healing from it, the doctor called days later and told my husband ‘Tell your wife she has breast cancer and needs a mastectomy immediately,’ ” Purkiss says.
Terrified, the couple didn’t know where to turn. A successful businesswoman, Purkiss didn’t know enough about cancer to decide if it was the best option for her or the next steps. So, less than three weeks later, she was on the operating table having a double mastectomy.
The healing process — and resulting reconstruction — took two years. In that time, the couple, who had three children — the eldest at 10 years old — at home, decided to sell their successful business and focus on healing and family. Unfortunately, this didn’t go so well; Purkiss ended up needing six surgeries due to issues with the implants from the reconstruction and her father was diagnosed with lung cancer.
As an escape, she turned back to her jewelry hobby as a release. Before long, her hubby launched a website to help sell all of her baubles.
As the business surprisingly took off, Purkiss decided she didn’t need all the money for herself. So, she went in search of a breast cancer charity with which to partner.
“My goal was to donate 15 percent of all sales – not just proceeds – directly back to a breast cancer organization,” Purkiss says. “Believe it or not, I had trouble finding a partner to take my donations for what seemed like years!”
However, one day Purkiss was sitting in a doctor’s waiting room and saw something on the white board, a seminar titled “Are Our Daughters at Risk? Talking to Kids About Cancer,” featuring Dr. Quiet, co-founder of Arizona Institute for Breast Health (AIBH).
This struck a chord with Purkiss as her own daughter asked if she would also be getting cancer like mommy as soon as Purkiss was diagnosed. She attended the session with a good friend, who lost her mother to breast cancer, and they were inspired.
“I literally just stood up after the seminar and blurted out to Dr. Quiet how I wanted to give her my money,” laughs Purkiss.
Floored, Dr. Quiet invited Purkiss to attend an AIBH committee meeting. Before long, a partnership was struck. All these years later, Purkiss’ business is still successful and still involved with giving back to AIBH — in more ways than one. Over the years, Purkiss joined the AIBH board and even served as its president.
Her hope is that if any other woman in Arizona gets a cold phone call from a doctor letting her know she has breast cancer, that she dials AIBH immediately.
“It’s a call I wish I would have known to make,” says a still-cancer-free Purkiss, whose breast reconstruction from the mastectomy resulted in six additional surgeries due to complications.