MILWAUKEE—While scientists research life-saving treatments and prevention for breast cancer, there is still more that can be done in the lives of women navigating this journey. Taking care of the quality of life of women post-diagnosis is ABCD: After Breast Cancer Diagnosis, an organization based here, focused not only on the patients, but the family and friends who are supporting her.
“Our founder, Melodie Wilson, was a well-known TV anchorwoman in the metro-Milwaukee market and she gathered survivors to help with the effort. She wanted to make sure we had a name that reflected what we did rather than who founded it. She wanted to focus on the people we service,” said Ginny Finn, executive director of ABCD: After Breast Cancer Diagnosis. “The name is a handy acronym and, from the very beginning, we’ve been focused on who we service—the woman and her family.”
The InterContinental Milwaukee, which is owned and managed by Marcus Hotels & Resorts, has donated more than $13,000 to ABCD in support of the organization’s signature service: free, personalized, one-to-one support for breast cancer patients, their families and friends. The money is raised through the hotel’s two Pink Rooms—guestrooms designed with the comfort and support of breast cancer patients in mind. A portion of the proceeds from each stay in the rooms goes to ABCD.
“They’ve done a little of everything, including receptions, tours and educational workshops. It started with the Pink Rooms and now there are dinner specials in the restaurants and bar. We kind of feel like family. We can go to valet and they know who we are,” said Finn. “The hallmark is that it’s rooted in their own experience and the lives of women who’ve been touched by breast cancer.”
Tim Smith, who at the time the program began was GM of the InterContinental Milwaukee, remembers how the seed of an idea was planted at the hotel.
“It’s a really neat story. It was November 2008 and I heard some water cooler talk. One of the young ladies who worked in the sales office—we shared an office with the sales team—was having a conversation with another woman in the office about it being the second day of November and all of the pink and marketing things that go on for breast cancer awareness had already disappeared,” said Smith. “They were talking in passionate tones and saying that all of these companies feel they can benefit from turning pink for a month, yet the battle goes on and on. One woman’s mom was a survivor and my aunt had died from breast cancer. Another woman was a survivor and, at the time, she was mentoring women and their families after they became diagnosed with breast cancer. Someone also mentored her when she was diagnosed. We knew we had the organization to do something for and, as a hotel, we had a bunch of different options…”
Born out of the conversation, it was suggested to turn one of the guestrooms pink and get pro bono work for the design and other elements. The hotel’s team members created marketing and business plans and then reached out to Finn at ABCD to get the organization’s buy-in for the initiative. Smith also found the support from leadership at Marcus Hotels & Resorts was immediate.
“I went to the president of Marcus Hotels & Resorts and ran it up the flagpole, so to speak. After three minutes, he said, ‘You can have the money’ and so we did it,” he said. “We found some local designers who had ties to breast cancer in their families and they did the work at cost. There was a substantial amount of work needed to get things done.”
Fast-forward seven years and Smith is now GM at The Pfister Hotel, which is also part of the Marcus Hotels & Resorts portfolio. It’s clear the effort has left an indelible mark on him, with other GMs calling to pick his brain to learn how they, too, can have a similar initiative at their property.
“It’s something that’s touched my family and, to this day, people still correlate the Pink Rooms with me and I feel like I had little to do with it. I recognized a good idea when I heard it, but it’s amazing to think after seven years, it’s still going strong,” he said. “We felt that if we used these rooms to raise awareness of the disease that can be curable—if caught early through methods such as earlier testing— there is a much better chance of beating the disease.”
Finn shares this sentiment and is thankful for the long-standing partnership. “It’s about every day of your life, being grateful and enjoying your life even with the burden of cancer,” she said. “They’re really class acts.”