April 22, 2024
Tackling Cancer
It was a sea of pink at the DONNA Marathon in Jacksonville.

Photo: Dede Smith/USA Today Network

Tackling Cancer
Mayor Donna Deegan, right, and Edith Perez, Deegan's Mayo Clinic oncologist, celebrate finishing the foundation's half marathon together in 2013.

Photo: Kelly Jordan/USA Today Network

Economic Backbone: Breast Cancer

Tackling Cancer

Jacksonville's first female mayor is a three-time cancer survivor. She assists others battling the disease through her foundation and has made health equity a top priority as mayor.

Vanessa Caceres | 10/16/2023

Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan knows a thing or two about breast cancer.

The former First Coast News TV anchor was first diagnosed at the age of 38 in 1999 after finding a small lump during a breast self-check. A biopsy determined that she had triple negative breast cancer, and that led to surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

In 2002, the cancer returned in a lymph node, with the same course of treatments. Then in 2007, cancer was found in the lower lobe of her left lung. That led to surgery and a third round of chemotherapy. Deegan has been cancer-free since.

After her second diagnosis, she created a blog to update viewers on her treatment. “I started hearing from women who were going through the same thing but didn’t have insurance, family support or a good job,” Deegan says.

Deegan developed the idea of The DONNA Foundation in 2003 based on a desire to help raise funds for those living with cancer. Running coach Jeff Galloway suggested training participants to run a marathon to raise money for the foundation. She then partnered with Galloway and her oncologist, Edith Perez, to create a signature marathon, now held annually. The foundation also hosts 5K running events and has its CareLine to help manage insurance and financial issues for those living with breast cancer.

Over the past 20 years, The DONNA Foundation has helped more than 19,000 families living with breast cancer and has contributed more than $3.3 million toward breast cancer research. It has also contributed more than $4.9 million to provide financial relief for families.

In the past year, the foundation provided $877,000 in debt relief, including nearly $294,500 for just one patient after her insurance company denied treatment claim submissions, Deegan says.

Deegan, who was elected mayor in May 2023, says that her experience tackling cancer and assisting others through the foundation help her respond with empathy and focus on health equity in her new role as mayor. She created the city position of chief health officer, filled by allergist/immunologist Sunil Joshi, to fund and coordinate health resources and health education.

Deegan shares some advice for those facing a new breast cancer diagnosis. “Give yourself some time to grieve. You’ve slipped through that invisible line between life before and after a diagnosis. It’s a lot. Just give yourself some grace,” she says.

Breast Cancer Facts

More than 17,700 women in Florida are diagnosed with breast cancer each year — making it the most common type of cancer diagnosed among women in Florida. Nearly 3,000 women die from the disease annually. Although rare, men can develop breast cancer. In 2021, 38 men in Florida died of breast cancer.

Stage at Diagnosis

  • 63.6% Early Stage
  • 31.5% Late Stage
  • 4.9% Unknown

Source: The State of Cancer 2023, Florida Cancer Connect; Florida Department of Health

Tags: Healthcare, Feature, Economic Backbone: Breast Cancer

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