Why I Reach & Raise: Charmaine Chan

April 30, 2019

Charmaine Chan, DO, is a family doctor at Nazareth Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was diagnosed with breast cancer seven years ago at the age of 40. Since then, she has led a team of colleagues and students at Reach & Raise: Philadelphia. Dr. Chan spoke to Living Beyond Breast Cancer content coordinator Madison Hughes about why she leads her team each year.

MADISON

What brought you to Reach & Raise that first year?

DR. CHAN

I was diagnosed at 40. My primary care provider said, “Oh, you’re turning 40, you should probably get a baseline mammogram.” And since I’m a primary care provider too I thought, “I should probably know how it feels to get a mammogram so I can explain to my patients better how to go through it.” And that was when they found the cancer, which was DCIS. I was shocked. That was the year before I moved back to Philly; I was in Northern Virginia at the time. And then I went through the whole treatment.

When I came back to Philly, I found out about your organization and I thought it was great, a different take. You guys focus not only on people who are going through breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, but also people who are post-treatment and trying to move on with life or at different stages of that process. I found out about and participated in Yoga on the Steps [a past name for Reach & Raise] and I just got hooked, basically.

MADISON

Tell me about your Reach & Raise team.

DR. CHAN

I used to be faculty at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, so my team started as PCOM Cares, and now that I’m at Nazareth Hospital in Northeast Philly, I just added “Nazareth” to it.

I did Yoga on the Steps first with my husband. Then I started telling my colleagues about it, they started telling our students about it, and it grew from there. Some of my neighbors also came out. Everyone who participates enjoys it.

The number of people on our team varies by year. We’ve had as many as 12 people, 13 maybe. And then last year nobody could come except for my one colleague. Most of the time we have somewhere between 10 and 13 people.

We find support with colleagues of mine. Larry Finkelstein, DO, FACOFP, has been there every time. And Peter Bidey, DO, MSED. Michael Becker, DO, MS, and his whole family. Christine Wilkinson has been supportive from the beginning. And Vaishali Vora, DO, she’s been there from the beginning as well.

The students all come and go because they move on or end up working elsewhere. The Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association, they never come, but they always do a bubble tea sale to raise money for the team. Unfortunately, May is crunch time for the medical students because they have to take their boards and some feel like they can’t take the time away from studying. But they help out, even if they can’t attend.

MADISON

What brings you back to Reach & Raise each year?

DR. CHAN

Number one, I think it’s brilliant to be able to do yoga, you know, at the Philadelphia Art Museum. It’s such a great location for it and it’s such a Philadelphia kind of thing. And to be able to do that with all these people; it is just a really supportive, a very nice event that is very uplifting as well. I love it as a fundraiser, I think it’s great. It’s different than everything else. It’s not a walk or a run. And I think it goes with the philosophy of what needs to happen as you go through cancer: trying to focus and be mindful. It’s just such an amazing feeling to be able to do yoga with all these people with cancer and their support system as you look down the steps of the museum.

MADISON

Do you have a fundraising tip for other team leaders?

DR. CHAN

I’m a little bit shy asking for money. But if you have someone who’s an advocate and who’s enthusiastic, a lot of times they can help you gather the people who want to do it. Work with the strengths of the people who are supportive of you. And if you know them well, you definitely should ask them for help, playing on their strengths. You know, like if someone is good at organizing, ask them to step in to help that way.

Don’t be embarrassed to talk about why you’re so gung-ho for this organization or why it’s a fun thing to do. I feel if you are a cancer survivor, they will be jumping all over it to try to help anyway. The Asian Pacific American Student Association just jumped in. I told them, “I’m doing this, it’s a great organization, you guys should learn about it.” None of them can come, so they figured out a different way of helping, and they decided to sell bubble tea as a fundraiser. I feel like once you tell people about the organization, they will figure out a way to help.


Reach & Raise: Philadelphia will be held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on May 19, 2019, rain or shine. Register today to help those affected by breast cancer.