Pink Zone Luncheon honors researchers, clinicians, survivors

Author: Gene Stowe and Stephanie Healey


Mary Hesburgh Flaherty, a 1979 Notre Dame alumna and two-time breast cancer survivor, spoke about her experience with cancer at the third annual Pink Zone Luncheon on Feb. 2. Each year the luncheon is hosted by the College of Science and the Notre Dame women’s basketball team to honor breast cancer researchers, clinicians, and survivors and their supporters.

“This type of event personifies what this great University stands for,” said Flaherty, a niece of Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C. and a member of the Notre Dame Undergraduate Experience Advisory Council. Flaherty was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years after she graduated from Notre Dame. She had a successful mastectomy, but was diagnosed again 13 years later. She had another successful mastectomy and is now cancer-free.

“The death rates for women have decreased in the past 12 years,” she said, crediting earlier detection and better treatment methods. Flaherty’s oldest daughter recently underwent testing and found she had the breast cancer gene, BRCA1. The gene gives her an 88% chance of developing breast cancer, so she decided to have a pre-emptive double mastectomy.

Flaherty said her cancer experience taught her the importance of maintaining a sense of humor, giving yourself a break, taking charge of your situation and demanding answers from doctors, sharing what you learn with others, and maintaining a strong personal faith.

Also at the luncheon, M. Sharon Stack, The Anne F. Dunne and Elizabeth M. Riley Director of the Harper Cancer Research Institute, introduced four new faculty members for the institute.

  • Reginald Hill, the Coleman Assistant Professor of Cancer Biology in the Department of Biological Sciences
  • Laurie Littlepage, the Campbell Family Professor of Cancer Research in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
  • Jenifer Prosperi, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the Indiana University School of Medicine – South Bend
  • Siyuan Zhang, the Nancy Dee Assistant Professor of Cancer Research in the Department of Biological Sciences

 “Just like the basketball team, just like the football team, we’ve got some good recruiters out there,” Stack said.

Dr. Robin Zon, an oncologist at Michiana Hematology Oncology and Medical Director of Research at Memorial Hospital, said the establishment of the Harper Cancer Research Institute has accelerated longstanding collaborations of basic and translational research in the community. “I truly believe our local community and collaborators will make an impact,” she said. “Just as it takes a team to win a game, it takes a team to cure cancer.”

The luncheon is one of several Pink Zone events at the Notre Dame. Pink Zone is a global, unified effort of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) to raise awareness and support for women with breast cancer. All proceeds from Notre Dame’s Pink Zone events benefit the St. Joseph Regional Medical Center Foundation to help local women with breast cancer and the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.