I was living a life I had worked hard to achieve: a Duke and Stanford Law grad, working long hours as a hotshot junior attorney at a big, wonderful law firm. Duke had just won the national championship (I flew to Indianapolis for it), my career was taking off and my husband (another Blue Devil) and I had just settled into our loft in downtown Los Angeles.
Then, I got blindsided. A diagnosis of stage IV colon cancer with the spread of cancer so extensive that my surgeon exited the waiting room in tears with a grim prognosis. I was 28 years old and had just been given a death sentence.
But I wasn’t afraid, or mad or sad. I was actually pretty psyched. Because, you see, I’m a Blue Devil—I relish a challenge and think of solutions. I’m a Cameron Crazie and I love to compete … and win. And I’ve believed in our Duke standards of excellence since childhood, when this L.A.-native decided to attend Duke at the age of nine (Coach K, Bobby Hurley, Christian Laettner and Grant Hill deserve the assist for that decision). I knew that all those things would only help me in my battle against The Big C.
And they have. Over a year and a half later—after three surgeries and 25 rounds of chemo—I’m well on my way to beating cancer to death. My first surgeon said I’d never practice law, lift weights or play basketball ever again—I do all of those things almost every day. After my second surgery, which was 11 hours long and included 18 different procedures, my doctors and nurses said I wouldn’t get out of the hospital in less than 21 days. I was discharged in 14 days, and two days later, I convinced my family to take me to Cameron for a game and to catch up with Coach and the K family (huge supporters of mine who have been behind me since day one of my diagnosis).
After my third surgery, just three months ago, doc gave another grim prognosis (he has since changed his mind) but my mom responded with the only question I prepared her to ask: When do I get out of the ICU and into my room because there’s a Duke game tonight. Come on now—I have priorities.
In dealing with my own cancer adventures, I also found that I could help others at the same time. I started a blog (wunderglo.com) to chronicle my cancer story, and it went viral. Soon, cancer patients from around the country were emailing me daily to ask for advice or a pep talk. Other people who weren’t patients were inspired to examine their gastrointestinal health and get colonoscopies (two people—one is 27 and the other, 31—found pre-cancerous polyps that were removed). I’ve had about three or four people credit me with saving their lives. That feeling of helping others in such a profound way was the best feeling in the world, and all I wanted was to do more. So I did. I started The WunderGlo Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to finding the cure for colon cancer, promoting healthy lifestyle choices and supporting cancer warriors and their loved ones. We’ve raised tens of thousands of dollars for cancer research and advocacy. Every day, we’re doing our part to demystify the disease and empower patients to do what they can do to be healthy, strong and positive in their mind set.
Where would we go to spread our message beyond the confines of lovely California? Our first stop was, of course, Duke. In the past couple of days, I met with the leaders of the Duke Cancer Center and collaborated with wonderfully engaged students and alums for our first ever “Go To Hell, Cancer!!” three-on-three basketball tournament. I specifically mention “first ever” because we plan to come back to campus every year, with goals of expanding our event and making it a campus-wide affair. They are lofty goals, but I’m sure we’ll achieve them. Because if there’s any place and group of people who have each other’s back and my back—even through cancer—it’s Duke.
Gloria Borges, Trinity ’04, is the founder and president of the WunderGlo Foundation. This column is the final installment in a semester-long series of weekly columns written by dPS members addressing civic service and engagement at Duke.