1999 Rell Sunn Award Winner
Dani Grady

UCSD Cancer Center Foundation 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093-0658
CONTACT: UCSD Cancer Center Foundation (619) 822-0022

Dani Grady is a person who never gives up. Diagnosed with advanced breast cancer at the age of 29, she fought her way through multiple surgical procedures, chemotherapy, and severe septicemia, to beat the odds. Taking lessons from her own odyssey, she dedicated herself to helping patients make informed decisions about their treatment options by assisting them to use available information and resources. Hired by the UCSD Cancer Center as Patient Ombudsman and Clinical Care Coordinator, she became a one- person database, counseling patients on treatment choices and current clinical trials. She also became a "matchmaker" - linking patients with appropriate physicians and protocols. Dani was designated by the National Cancer Institute as the San Diego resource for public information on cancer. Additionally, she started Sports Buddies!, a big brother/big sister program that linked more than one hundred pediatric oncology patients with UCSD intercollegiate athletes.

Her belief that cancer survivors make the best patient mentors motivated Dani to propose the idea for a network of survivors to support and counsel new patients. Called the Thrivers' Network, her idea was presented to the UCSD Cancer Center Foundation and received their go-ahead in the Fall of 1993. (The name Thrivers' Network is derived from Dani's firm belief that thriving is a lot more fun than merely surviving.) As Executive Director, she established an executive committee of cancer survivors and family members, and trained a corps of volunteers to help new cancer patients find the hope and strength to remake their lives. To date, the Thrivers' Network hotline has been contacted by more than 10,000 people. Additionally, 100 volunteers have been trained to work one-to-one, assisting over 2000 patients.

Dani's mission to provide support and education to patients led her to organize five "Beyond Surviving - Thriving!" Cancer Survivorship Symposia, and to serve as co-chair for three community-wide National Cancer Survivorship Day celebrations. She also played a crucial role in securing one million dollars from Richard and Annette Bloch for a Cancer Survivorship Park that will be established this fall at Spanish Landing. She is a founder and chair of Cancer Survivorship San Diego!, now in its second year. This organization is an unprecedented collaboration of all area cancer support organizations and hospitals.

Driven to contribute ever more, Dani has taken her advocacy on behalf of cancer survivors to a wider audience, speaking nationwide and appearing locally and nationally in more than 200 television, radio, and newspaper interviews as a voice for the cancer survivorship community. In a uniquely creative project to help overcome societal fears about cancer and the consequences of its treatment, she teamed up with photographer Art Myers to produce a photographic essay on breast cancer survivors, entitled "Winged Victory: Altered Images, Transcending Breast Cancer." The photographs have been exhibited nationally, featured on local and national television news, and published in a book.

Last Spring, during a live interview on NBC News, she appealed to the nation to come to Washington, DC to join The March -- Coming Together to Conquer Cancer. Dani decided to get there via a cross-country bicycle trip. Despite the fact that it was the hottest summer on record, she completed the 3,700-mile trip, stopping for rallies at 25 cancer centers from San Diego to Washington. Her ride, combined with numerous media appearances and interviews, helped greatly to increase awareness of the need for better healthcare access and the importance of multi-disciplinary second opinions for people diagnosed with cancer. It also raised over $100,000 for the Thrivers' Network. Dani was joined on her ride by the directors of 23 cancer centers. The mayors of Philadelphia and Baltimore came out to lend their support as well. Upon her arrival in Washington, Vice President and Mrs. Gore honored her at a reception held at their residence. Then, on national television, she rode into The March and addressed the crowd of 200,000 in front of the Capitol.

Currently Dani is an active member of several organizations. She is a National Breast Cancer Coalition LEAD graduate; a board member of the National Association of Cancer Patients; a member of the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship; and, Chair of the Thrivers' Network. In addition, she is an American Cancer Society California State Professional Breast Health Trainer and has served as an advocate reviewer on several scientific panels. She is now working to secure passage by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors of an initiative to use $100 million of the funds from the tobacco industry settlement to establish a San Diego Regional Cancer Institute. Also, in collaboration with Richard Bloch, she is spearheading efforts to pass legislation to assure HMO coverage of multi-disciplinary second opinions. Most recently she formed Thriving Concepts, an Internet-based national training program devoted to educating patients about cancer treatments, resources, and access to care.

Despite the seriousness of this work, Dani is by no means a drudge. As she puts it, "My middle name is 'Fun.'" When she is not bicycling across the country, she is an avid basketball player, scuba diver, weight lifter, and midnight gardener. Dani is very fond of the water and was recently a finalist in the World Body Surfing Championships. She lives in Coronado with her very supportive husband, Dr. Ralph Greenspan, a geneticist at The Neurosciences Institute, and her Abyssinian kitty, Lilly.

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