A breast cancer survivor’s dedication to volunteerism, advocacy: Why she says you should attend the 13th Annual All Cancer Symposium

"These events really open your eyes to the guidelines, screenings, and understanding what a cancer hospital, like Karmanos Cancer Institute, provides.”

Josephine Roach is a dedicated advocate and member of the Karmanos Cancer Advocacy Program (KCAP) at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute. You might say advocating is in her blood. She’s also a dedicated volunteer with Susan G. Komen® Michigan Race for the Cure.

Nine years ago, when she began working with the Komen organization, she had no connection to breast cancer. Still, the Oakland Township resident possessed a desire to make a difference. Little did she know the survivors she would be working beside would soon become her greatest cheerleaders as she underwent her breast cancer journey. 

At the time, Roach received her annual mammogram like clockwork. In 2016, her screening indicated nothing abnormal; however, the very next year, her screening showed something very different.

In November 2017, life completely changed when Roach was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer: triple-positive invasive ductal carcinoma. In triple-positive breast cancer, tumor growth is fueled by estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and HER2, a protein found in breast cells. Her cancer diagnosis was confirmed after she had a breast biopsy at a local Michigan-based hospital. That’s when she decided to visit the Karmanos Cancer Center in Detroit for a second opinion.

“I chose Karmanos because they solely specialize in cancer, and if we are fortunate enough to have it in Michigan, where else would I go?” said Roach.

Under the care of her now retired breast surgeon at Karmanos, Mary Ann Kosir, M.D., FACS, her medical oncologist Lawrence Flaherty, M.D., and radiation oncologist Michael Dominello, D.O., she underwent a lumpectomy, received chemotherapy once a week for 12 weeks, followed by four weeks of radiation treatments and five years of taking an oral hormone blocker. Drs. Flaherty and Dominello are both members of the Breast Cancer Multidisciplinary Team.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer worldwide, as mentioned by Dr. Flaherty. Most of the time, breast cancers are identified by mammograms and without any symptoms. Cancer is the most curable in its early stages, so Karmanos recommends an annual screening mammogram for all women of average risk beginning at age 40.

When treating breast cancer, Dr. Flaherty likes to make sure patients understand the process from start to finish.

“Most of my approach is to try to provide people with the right information to understand the risks that cancer poses for them along with what therapies can favorably impact that risk,” he explained.

“Dr. Flaherty would always listen to my concerns and help me feel confident in his research behind each treatment plan we made,” Roach said.

Dr. Dominello’s approach is complementary to Dr. Flaherty’s. He said patients typically come for their first radiation consultation with little to no knowledge of what radiation is or what it accomplishes.

“The first step to helping patients understand is listening. This could be listening to what the patients have experienced after surgery or chemotherapy, or it could be listening to their body language or questions to identify how we can help them better understand the process.”

“The one word I would use to describe her and her approach to her cancer journey was that she was consistently upbeat,” added Dr. Dominello when reflecting on Roach’s treatment.

According to her oncologists, she had a positive attitude and a drive to do more for the community around cancer awareness.

“She saw this as an opportunity to help other people in general with cancer that might be underserved or might not know as much,” said Dr. Flaherty.

Shortly after finishing her treatments, Roach was selected to join KCAP. This organization is dedicated to the prevention and cure of cancer throughout local and state communities with the involvement of medical physicians and patient advocates.

One of the primary responsibilities of KCAP is to provide cancer awareness and education outreach to the community through events, including the Annual All Cancer Symposium. Before her breast cancer diagnosis, Roach attended one of Karmanos’ conferences because of her connection with Komen. Now, she’s front and center with the group that plans the event.

This year’s 13th Annual All Cancer Symposium, in partnership with the Karmanos Cancer Network and McLaren Health Care, takes place on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The conference is free and available virtually and in person in Detroit, Flint and Lansing.

“The Cancer Patient’s Journey: What You Need to Know” is this year’s symposium theme. There will be presentations from multiple oncologists and specialists throughout the Network, covering the different types of treatments, the process of determining treatment options for cancer patients, and the role of imaging technology, genetic testing, and clinical trials in cancer management.

“Not just cancer patients and survivors, but everyone should be at this year’s symposium because hearing these stories and the advances at Karmanos can help people understand the journey of a cancer patient,” said Roach.

KCAP has invited Kathy Smolinski, MSW, JD, the director of Legal Advocacy for People with Cancer Clinic at Wayne State University Law School as the keynote speaker.

During the conference, Roach will join one of the scheduled panels covering how patients can optimize their cancer care experience. Along with four Karmanos experts, Roach’s panel will discuss cancer care after treatment. She has been inviting everyone she meets to the Symposium and looks forward to sharing how her perspective on life has changed due to her breast cancer diagnosis.

Roach currently serves as the chairman of the Susan G. Komen Michigan Leadership Council, where she continues to inspire and support others through her volunteering, fundraising and positive attitude. Her most recent accomplishment is publishing a book based on her cancer journey. And yet, five years after her initial diagnosis, one of Roach’s greatest passions is to start the conversation on the importance of routine cancer screenings.

“Without scheduling my annual mammograms, I would not be here today.”

“Everyone should go to the Symposium because we all have a connection to cancer – whether we’ve had it or know of someone who has had it. These events really open your eyes to the guidelines, screenings, and understanding what a cancer hospital, like Karmanos Cancer Institute, provides,” added Roach.

“There is a constant need for new and correct information about cancers and how we treat them. The cancer world is constantly changing with new therapies being developed and approved all the time, so making people aware of what’s most helpful through the Symposiums is a critical part of our jobs,” Dr. Flaherty reflected.

Attending the 13th Annual All Cancer Symposium in person or virtually is free. In-person seating is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Karmanos is providing breakfast and lunch for those attending the Symposium in person.

Visit karmanos.org/cancersymposium for more information and to register.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, consulting with a specialist who has dedicated their career to researching the disease is important. Call 1-800-KARMANOS to make an appointment with one of our world-renowned experts.