My role with Hollings Cancer Center and the fight against cancer

Ray Greenburg is the reason I joined the Hollings Cancer Center family. It’s true. In 2010, Dr. Greenburg sent the head of the Foundation Board to see me and ask me to join the MUSC Hollings cause.

“We need financial talent on the Foundation Board,” it was explained.

As a mom of two with two asset management companies, mountains to climb and splitting time between Colorado and my native home of Charleston, I didn’t weigh the honor or commitment lightly. Hollings understood my financial and philanthropic efforts were firmly rooted in She CLIMBS. Could I still be an asset to the organization? IMPACT. After all, every day is about impact.


Thankful beyond words to have an institution such as Hollings in my backyard, and even more thankful that I, nor anyone in my family, had yet to need its resources, I couldn’t say no. My Hollings journey began.


Education and inspiration happens every day at Hollings. It is vast. As my tenure grew on the board, so did my hunger to evolve from the Foundation Board to a cause that began to stir in me, the fight against cancer.  


Most of you know me as Cokie, but my given name is Helen. I come from a long list of Helens dating back to the late 1800s. The first Helen’s daughter was the wife of Charleston’s 50th mayor, Robert Goldwyn Rhett—Helen Smith Whaley. My grandmother, Helen, was the 4th of such Helens and died of colon cancer in 1980. The 5th of the Helens, my aunt, passed away two years ago of ovarian cancer.


You may know the book “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein—I read that book to my grandmother who moved into my room in our family home in 1980 where she later passed away.


I think that the moral of Silverstein’s story is that the boy who took and took and took his entire life was never satisfied, but the tree who gave everything she had was happy in the end.


Sixteen years ago, I set out on a mission to climb the 7 summits of the world; it was fueled by a love of the outdoors and adventure and mostly by a mission to inspire others with my climbs.


Having climbed 4 of the 7 summits thus far: Mt. Elbrus, Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mt. Aconcagua and most recently Denali – Everest is next on my list. Having successfully walked off Denali, a mountain that takes many lives, Everest feels big and fragile.


It’s been made clear to me that if I’m going to climb Everest, it has to be about something bigger than myself. I’m climbing Mt. Everest in April 2020 with a goal of raising $1 million for Hollings Cancer Center for cancer prevention, education, and research.


That may seem ambitious, I know, but I firmly believe that we can get there through the work being done right here in Charleston at Hollings Cancer Center.


Hollings knows that some of the greatest tools in fighting cancer are education and awareness- understanding the risks and then taking steps to reduce those risks. These are everyday tools, education, and awareness.


Initiatives such as the Mobile Health Unit providing breast and cervical cancer screenings to medically underserved communities throughout the state, are worthy, everyday programs.


Programs that provide furthering education on cancer prevention, screening and treatment options along with clinical trials to community leaders so that they are equipped to serve as ambassadors to share this information throughout their communities.


These programs are so important because they are reaching people throughout South Carolina that may not have the tools, the time, or the resources to obtain this information on their own. They are providing individuals with the power to take control, every day. #EverydayEverest is about fighting cancer one day at a time, one step at a time. The biggest of goals starts with one step. That first step in this journey began for me in 2003. Small, everyday steps have helped me summit peaks. So too can be our fight to save another life.


My aunt and grandmother could have detected and potentially prevented their deaths from cancer. Research education and early detection is how we will make a difference for our daughters and granddaughters – by making whatever impact we can on programs that empower us with the information and resources to take control of our health! This journey is for the Helens behind me and those ahead.


I can’t tell you how honored I am to play my own role in this very important mission. Join me in my #EverydayEverest mission; I won’t be able to summit this mountain without you--join me and be an ambassador for preventive screenings and cancer prevention, every day.


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