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Operating Outside the Box

Two Local Docs Take to the Dancefloor for Breast Cancer Survivors


How do breast cancer and ballroom dancing intersect? In Charlotte, the answer is the popular benefit show, Dancing with the Stars of Charlotte for the Pink House, where local notables pair with ballroom professionals to raise money for Carolina Breast Friends' Pink House.

This year, standing at that intersection of ballroom and breast cancer are two Charlotte physicians--Lisa Nanovic, DO, and Josh Surowitz, MD--who are operating well outside their comfort zones to help raise money for women and men living with breast cancer. They are two of the 13 stars who will participate in this fall's Dancing with the Stars of Charlotte for the Pink House, November 6, 2021, at Knight Theater.

Dr. Nanovic is an internal medicine and nephrology doctor at Atrium Health. Dr. Surowitz is a facial plastic surgeon and the co-owner of Dilworth Facial Plastic Surgery. Though they hail from different medical specialties, they're on the same page about the importance of supporting breast cancer survivors.

Dr. Surowitz is struck by how breast cancer affects so many and how that impact ripples out into the community, saying "Breast cancer, unfortunately, touches everyone. And the Pink House provides critical services for survivors on their journey." Dr. Nanovic has been moved by watching friends, family members, and patients battle breast cancer, and she is dedicating her performance to a fellow doctor currently undergoing breast cancer treatment. She shares, "[The Pink House] is a positive oasis of strength and assistance that medicine alone cannot provide. Both personally having a close friend with breast cancer, and professionally as a physician, I wish everyone in Charlotte and the surrounding areas was well aware and supportive of the Pink House."

Carolina Breast Friends, who operates the Pink House, works to strengthen the wellbeing of people living with breast cancer, whom they call survivors from day one. The Pink House provides more than 25 wellbeing, nutrition, education, support, and self-image sessions a month--now offered both virtually and on video. Their One-on-One Mentoring Program matches survivors at any point in their breast cancer experience with other survivors who are further along in navigating the journey. The organization also provides free access to therapeutic services such as Oncology Massage and Strength Training, as well as free wigs, mastectomy bras, and breast prostheses.

Dancing with the Stars of Charlotte for the Pink House began in 2016, through a partnership between Carolina Breast Friends and event co-creators Claire Talley and Felipe Gonzales, to raise awareness and funds for the work of the Pink House. It quickly became one of the fastest growing events in Charlotte, with participants raising more than $3.4 million since its inception.

The show is modelled after the popular Dancing with the Stars television show. Local stars--often with connections to the breast cancer community--learn and perform a ballroom number that is scored by judges from the dance world. Meanwhile, audience members and the general public vote for their favorite star by making donations. Every dollar equals one vote, and the contestant with the most dollars at the end of the night wins a mirror ball trophy for Top Fundraiser. There's also a Judge's Choice trophy for the best performance.

Over the years, several of Charlotte's top medical professionals have been among those to step out of their comfort zones and take to the dance floor in front of a packed theater. Some have even walked away with trophies, including last year's Judge's Choice winner, Jamie Satterfield, MD.

Most would agree, however, that the experience is a challenge unlike many they've attempted. Says, Dr. Surowitz, "Dancing has never been one of my talents, and I was uncomfortable with the idea of doing it in front of a large audience. That said, I believe it's important to take on challenges that are outside of our comfort zone. The fact that this is for such a fantastic cause made it an easy decision."

Of course, the real winners are the people living with breast cancer who benefit from the services provided by the Pink House. Over the course of the Covid pandemic, that number has tripled, as breast cancer survivors search for assistance during what has often been an even more isolated and frightening time. Because the Pink House has moved to virtual delivery for its sessions and mentoring, help has been just a call, or video, or zoom session away. Says one survivor, "The sessions the Pink House delivers virtually have been my lifeline. During the pandemic, they've helped me stay connected. But even without a pandemic, they'd have helped me when I didn't have the energy to leave my house."

The virtual access has also allowed more people to attend sessions than could fit into the house itself. It's been an access game changer, made possible in part by the fundraising success of the Dancing with the Stars event and participants like Dr. Nanovic and Dr. Surowitz who work so hard at something completely unfamiliar to them.

Why do they do it? Dr. Surowitz shares, "We often think of breast cancer in completely medical terms. There is so much more that needs attention: mental health, social support, and education, to name a few. The Pink House provides these critical needs in a warm, friendly, loving atmosphere--all at no cost. It is a fantastic organization, and I am proud to be a part of that."


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