When a disease kills people you love and then threatens your own life, it’s only natural to fight back.
In just four years, Dawn Whyte lost three loved ones to cancer, and she, too, was diagnosed.
The Waunakee woman never knew her family had a history of cancer until 2005, when her aunt was diagnosed and fought for two and a half years before losing that battle in 2007 at the age of 69. The next domino to fall was her mother, diagnosed with stage 3 endometrial cancer in 2008. Whyte’s mother also died after a 2 1/2-year fight. It was 2010, the same year cancer claimed a close friend’s life.
And in April 2010, Whyte discovered a lump on her breast. She underwent a lumpectomy and six and a half weeks of radiation. Just then, her own mortality seemed real.
“Getting the diagnosis and dealing with everything gave me a different perspective on life,” Whyte said. “It puts you in a vulnerable position. You’re not invincible.”
Whyte said she was sort of in a daze during treatment as she continued working full time and raising the couple’s three children. Her husband, Henry, found the words for what would become their fight and a breast cancer foundation.
“He would say ‘Eff’ this, and ‘Eff’ that in his Boston accent,” she said, adding that he often said, “Effcansah.”
“I was a little embarrassed,” she added.
But one day, he surprised her at work by showing up with their boat, which had just been put in storage for the winter.
He had named the boat “Effcansah,” and underneath its name was a pink ribbon. With a photo on Facebook, a new nonprofit was born to raise funds for Dr. Mark Burkard's breast cancer research team at the UW Health Carbone Cancer Center.
As Whyte states on the Effcansah website:
“In this day and age almost everyone has had someone they know who has battled or lost their fight with cancer. It is kind of a fancy word for the obvious and was our battle cry. Effcansah!”
Whyte has been raising funds since then by competing in sprint triathlons and selling Effcansah t-shirts and merchandise. It seems many share the Whytes’ battle cry.
Next week, thanks to a partnership with Globe University business communication students, Whyte is looking forward to what she hopes is Effcansah’s largest fundraiser to date at the Waunakee Village Center – a carnival style event with games, face painting, a silent auction, food and DJ with karaoke for families. It will run from 6:30-8:30 p.m., Dec. 13.
The event is also teaching business students marketing skills as they approach local businesses for prizes to auction off.
Whyte said she met the Globe business instructor, Meredith Beckman, when Effcansah sponsored a hole at the Madison Police Department’s golf outing. Beckman’s life, too, had been touched by cancer, so she chose the fundraiser as an end-of-semester project for the students.
All of the proceeds will help Dr. Burkard’s team at the UW Carbone Cancer Center conduct research on effective breast cancer treatment.
As the Effcansah.com site explains, Burkard’s team is conducting cell research to find ways to reduce the side effects of drugs, and secondly to stop cancer cells from copying and dividing. Burkard explains the process in detail on the site.
“I want to give my doctor a nice check,” Whyte said.
Whyte is still looking for prizes. For information or to donate to the foundation, visit Effcansah.com.