Cindy Krischer Goodman

For some South Florida business owners, battle against breast cancer is personal

THINKING PINK: The wife of Scott Collins, above right,  is being treated for breast cancer.  Collins, owner of Affordable Window Cleaning, and employees wear pink in October, and some profits will aid The Gift of Hope.
THINKING PINK: The wife of Scott Collins, above right, is being treated for breast cancer. Collins, owner of Affordable Window Cleaning, and employees wear pink in October, and some profits will aid The Gift of Hope. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Across the nation this month, businesses are rallying their employees and customers in the fight against breast cancer. For some owners, the cause is personal and workplace participation is that much more rewarding.

On a recent Monday morning, Scott Collins sat beside his wife, Lori, as she endured another round of chemotherapy to treat her breast cancer. He should have been out at a job site, supervising his team of window cleaners, but he knew they understood the competing demands on his time.

Throughout October, Collins’ employees are wearing pink shirts in support of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month as they disperse across South Florida. At the end of the month, Affordable Window Cleaning Co. in Davie will donate a percentage of its profits to The Gift of Hope, a South Florida foundation that helps local breast cancer patients with financial needs.

“I want to support my wife in every way I can,” Scott says. “My crew understands that.”

Some owners, like Scott, start small, asking employees to wear pink clothing or ribbons and to get involved in fund-raisers. Others, like Rocco Mangel of the popular Rocco’s Tacos, rally customers in a bigger way. Mangel raised $32,000 last year from an October promotion in which a portion of Tuesday night proceeds at all five restaurants went to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. (Rocco’s girlfriend’s mother, whom he is close to, is now fighting her second battle with the disease.)

The efforts of both represent more than just fund-raisers or awareness events. For spouses and family members of breast cancer patients, these are a way to ease heartache or show solidarity. Some small-business owners gain emotional support from signing up employees for local Race for the Cure teams.

Some take other approaches. Oscar Padilla says the annual cut-a-thon his Kendall salon helps him feel like a doer. A decade ago, Padilla said, he was “devastated” when his mother died of breast cancer. The memories of her rapid decline still sting, he says. “Anything I can do to spread awareness is gratifying.”

Every October, Padilla turns his Kairos Hair Salon pink for the month and donates 10 percent of sales from services and products to the Komen foundation. On Oct. 19, his 10 stylists will participate in a cut-a-thon with raffle prizes donated by neighboring vendors; “They see how important it is to me to give others the potential to survive.” The last three cut-a-thons raised about $3,000 each.

Breast cancer remains the leading cancer killer among women ages 20 to 59; more than 1.4 million cases are diagnosed annually worldwide. It is a life-changing event with repercussions that extend beyond the disease and treatment, and affect those who act as a support system.

When encountering the work/life conflict that arises, it is employees, customers and supportive business partners who make a difference for business owners during the difficult months of treatment. One South Florida doctor left his practice after his partners complained he was spending too much time trying to keep alive his wife with late-stage breast cancer.

In his household, Collins has picked up more of the childcare responsibilities during Lori’s five-year battle with breast cancer: “I try to get home early when I can or drive the kids to school, anything I can do to help out.”

Collins says it is because he owns his business that he can be there for his wife during her treatments. Having his customers’ support has been huge: One gave him leeway on a bid deadline; others have donated to fund-raisers he and Lori have organized. Last year, their event at an Aventura store raised more than $3,000 for The Gift of Hope.

Boating maven Kim Sweers has found encouragement from the business community, too.

Even before her diagnosis, Sweers had involved her company in the fight against cancer. She and husband, Randy Sweers, owners of FastBoats Marine Group in Miami, had both experienced the loss of a parent to cancer. They decided to use one of their offshore race boats as part of an early detection awareness-raising campaign and encouraged customers to donate to Indy Car champion Ryan Hunter-Reay’s Racing for Cancer foundation. Each month, FastBoat’s team races at events around the country, and the company hosts cocktail parties where sponsors can make donations.

“The biggest thing we’re trying to do with this boat is to get the word out to get checked for early detection,” Randy says.

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Sweers learned she had breast cancer in February, and began immediate treatment. Staying focused on business operations with support from customers and employees has helped her stay strong, she says: “I don’t have time to be sad or depressed or say, ‘Why me?’”

Sweers believes cancer feeds on stress, and she encouraged her staff to help her stay calm at work and focused on beating cancer. To show support, her 22 employees gave her an office party to celebrate the end of her treatment and made individual contributions to Racing for Cancer. “We’re all like a family,” Sweers says. “It makes a difference.”

In October, when breast cancer marketing reaches a frothy pink frenzy, Sherri Martens-Curtis relies on her former colleagues to help her raise money for the cause that became personal.

Eight years ago, her mother and business partner of 29 years in a Paul Mitchell hair products distributorship for Florida and the Caribbean died of breast cancer. She calls the experience “emotionally taxing” and the inspiration behind her position as president of the board of directors of Susan G. Komen Miami/Fort Lauderdale. As organizer of major fund-raisers, Martens-Curtis has raised more then $300,000. “It helps me cope.”

On Oct. 5, Martens-Curtis tapped former customers and colleagues for a Cut for the Cure event with 50 stylists at the Paul Mitchell School in Miami. On Nov. 9, she will host a Pink Gala in her mother’s honor.

Martens-Curtis says she gets purpose from passionate colleagues and friends who participate in fund-raisers and the knowledge that the money helps promote early detection: “For those of us with a personal connection, it’s that true collaboration that makes a difference.”

Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal and writes regularly on work/life issues. Connect with her at balancegal@gmail.com or visit www.worklifebalancingact.com.

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