Cancer Survivor’s Mission to Help Others
When cancer advocate Floriene Lieberman says she will do something, you can count on her to follow through. Lieberman, of Leawood, Kan., was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1976 and traveled to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for care because there was not a National Cancer Institute (NCI) comprehensive cancer center in the Kansas City region. Her cancer was treated but reoccurred in 1979, requiring a second visit to MD Anderson and innovative therapies.
When Lieberman beat breast cancer for the second time, she made a promise that she has lived up to every day since. “I told my family, ‘If I can survive this, I will give back to others’,” she said.
Lieberman has been part of the Cancer Funding Partners for decades, raising friends and funds for KU Cancer Center because she feels strongly about receiving care close to home. “When you are sick and hurting, you should not have to travel hundreds of miles to get the best treatment,” she said. “I wanted more than that for my community.”
It was hard for Lieberman to be away from home and her family for the two rounds of treatment she needed, but she felt it was important to have the best care available. “Because I chose to go to a comprehensive cancer center and participate in clinical trials, they were able to save my life,” she said.
KU Cancer Center Director Roy Jensen is like another son to Lieberman, so when he asked for funding help to support their NCI-designation effort, it was an easy “yes.” She was passionate about asking friends and community members to join the cause. “It was easy to go to people with the ability to make a difference in this world, and since they knew what I had been through, it was pretty hard to say no to helping out,” she said.
Lieberman and her late husband started the Floriene and George Lieberman Family Professorship in 2008. “We have advanced continuously in the cancer field,” she said. “I know we will continue to do more until we have a cure. Of course, the research must be funded.”
In addition to being a champion for research, Lieberman also has worked tirelessly to support prevention efforts and care for others facing cancer. “KU Cancer Center would not be where it is today without our ongoing dedicated supporters,” Jensen said. “Floriene Lieberman has put her heart into making sure people in our region have access to the best cancer care. She is a dear friend, and we are fortunate to count her as a friend. I always like to kid Floriene by calling her the ‘Grande Dame’ of the cancer center, and I think she secretly likes it. There is certainly no one more deserving of that title.”
Lieberman started the BEST program to teach women how to do breast self-examinations and fund mammograms for those who couldn’t afford them. She is a past president of the American Cancer Society and has advocated for the cause at the state and national levels. In the days when long distance was still the norm, Lieberman would buy an 800 number at a cancer auction and pass it on to doctors around the country. Patients from all over would call Lieberman for advice on everything from where to go for treatment to how to find a wig. Others just wanted someone to listen to how they were feeling.
“Even on Thanksgiving when our whole family was together, my mother would get a phone call from somebody who really needed her,” said Amy Pollack, Lieberman’s daughter. “She never said no; she was never too busy to step out and talk to somebody in need.”
On many occasions, Pollack has seen her mother’s impact firsthand. “There hasn’t been a day in her life that she hasn’t given back to someone,” she said. “People literally stop me all the time and say, ‘You can’t believe what your mother did for me.’ She is an inspiration.”
When asked about how she keeps the advocacy work going after all these years, Lieberman smiled and said, “If not me, then who? I just hope one day every form of cancer is eliminated. That would make for a wonderful world.”
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