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April Samuels: Drumming Up Donations for a Cancer Cure

Publication: The Dallas Morning News, Dallas, TX 

A phone call at 9 a.m. on Oct. 26, 2010, would forever change the life of April Samuels, a professional drummer whose musical career spans more than 20 years. After seven years of monitoring various cysts and lumps in her breasts without consequence, the diagnosis she hoped she'd never hear became a reality: high-grade, triple-negative breast cancer.

"It was going to be a couple days before I could get in to see the doctor, so he gave me some reputable websites so that I could read up on it," Samuels said. "I learned really quickly that triple-negative wasn't good. It's more aggressive, more likely to recur, more likely to spread. All the bad stuff."

When she went in for her full pathology report, Samuels recorded the entire conversation with her doctor, a practice she continued throughout treatment. With all the emotions involved, Samuels knew she might not remember every detail. However, one part remains crystal clear.

Samuels said to her doctor, "So, basically, you're telling me with everything you know right now, it's the worst it could possibly be?" And he said, "Yes."

She soon underwent a double mastectomy and opted to wear prosthetics afterward instead of having reconstructive surgery.

In April 2011, after completing eight rounds of chemotherapy, Samuels received great news: She was highly likely to be cancer-free. Samuels credits her surgeon, as well as her Texas Oncology-Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center team of Dr. Joyce O'Shaughnessy, hematologist and medical oncologist, and Dr. Carolyn Matthews, gynecologic oncologist, for saving her life and giving her peace of mind.

Yet her cancer story doesn't end there.

"Literally the Sunday before I was diagnosed, I remember laying in bed thinking, 'If I have breast cancer, I want to be the biggest advocate that I can be,'" Samuels said. "You know how you say things like that in life and then years later you look back and you didn't actually do any of them? I ended up really hanging onto that."

Within two weeks of her diagnosis, she'd contacted a graphic designer and came up with the tagline that would eventually become a full-fledged nonprofit, Breast Cancer Can Stick It!

She started small, selling T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan from the trunk of her car. Then fellow church members decided to wear the shirts for their softball team. Demand continued to increase and with it, profits, which Samuels distributed to area organizations.

In 2014, Samuels received notification that Breast Cancer Can Stick It! had been granted 501(c)(3) status – retroactive to May 2013.

"I just cried my eyes out, I was so excited," Samuels said.

Now, the organization holds events throughout the year, raising funds for breast cancer research and trials at Texas Oncology-Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center at Dallas, and for uninsured and underinsured people to get mammograms. Funds also support a partnership starting next year with a local hospital to fund 3-D ultrasound. This is a far more expensive treatment, but one that works better for fibrocystic breasts, like Samuels had.

"One day my accountant told me I was raising so much money that this didn't make sense anymore," Samuels said. "She said, 'You're so passionate about this, turn it into a nonprofit.'"

Breast Cancer Can Stick It!'s biggest event, Drummathon, was held recently at Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, with approximately 3,000 in attendance throughout the day. Celebrity drummers performed and the event's top fundraisers were given the opportunity to take the stage for a three-minute drum solo. More than $25,000 was raised, nearly double the previous year's total.

"The name 'Breast Cancer Can Stick It!' combines my passion for drumming with my passion for fighting breast cancer," she said. "This is exactly where my life has been headed.

– Steven Lindsey

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