by Len Lear

Tracie Brownlee, 46, a two-time breast cancer survivor and Germantown teacher (Anna Lane Lingelbach Elementary School, 6340 Wayne Ave.), is delighted that her 6th grade class was one of the recent winners of a Komen-Philadelphia School District fundraising effort for breast cancer research and education.

Celebrating a successful awareness and fundraising campaign to empower the next generation to head up the fight against breast cancer are (from left) Tracie Brownlee, two-time breast cancer survivor and teacher in the Philadelphia School District for 22 years; Sally Rotenberg, breast cancer survivor and volunteer for the Komen Philadelphia Affiliate; Cindy Yingling, CFO, Dietz & Watson, Inc., and breast cancer survivor; Elaine I. Grobman, CEO of the Komen Philadelphia Affiliate; and Ruth Eni, of Dietz & Watson.

The effort raised over $35,000 for the Komen organization, known best perhaps for its annual Race for the Cure, and taught the children and their parents the importance of breast cancer education.

Tracie grew up in North Philadelphia with her mother, father, brother and sister. Her father died in 1975, and her mother continued to raise the children alone. Mom was a teacher in the parochial school system and graduated from college the same year Tracie graduated from high school. Tracie attended Cecilian Academy High School for Girls in Mt. Airy and Beaver College (Arcadia University) for her undergraduate degree. She recently went back to school for her Masters in Education and Principal Certification (2009) from Cabrini College.

“This is my 22nd year as a teacher at the Lingelbach School,” said Tracie, “and I have been a teacher for the district for 24 years. In those years, I’ve lost my mother to breast cancer in 1998; my sister to lung cancer in 2000; and I have been diagnosed twice with breast cancer in 2003 and 2007.

“I believe I’m still here with the help of my faith, my families, school and home, great doctors and organizations like Susan G. Komen for the Cure. This year I became one of the 6th grade teachers, and I love my students. (Brownlee lives in Germantown, just five blocks away from the Lingelbach School.)

“When the opportunity came to collect money for this wonderful organization, I used it to tell the students my story of survival. This survival was made possible through early detection and regular mammograms, paid for through my insurance. However, not everyone is afforded this life-saving necessity. My students decided that this was an important cause for them to support …

“I truly believe this is what I was meant to do with my life. I have tackled many challenges and use these experiences to reach, understand, educate and hopefully inspire children to flourish.”

When the money started coming in from her students, Tracie decided to match them dollar for dollar, which she called “a win-win for everyone.” Brownlee’s 25 students at that time collected $230, and she kept her word to them to match it. Their total contribution was $460. “I am so proud we did this,” said Tracie. “I have a very competitive spirit and have passed this on to my students.”

The entire school routinely participates in raising funds for breast cancer research and life-saving programs. Brownlee is excited not only about the money raised but about the fact that her students gained a valuable lesson in compassion and community service.

“Each child also got a chance to share their individual stories of how cancer has touched their lives,” she said, “showing that no one is immune to this disease. Any effort that brings awareness and education to this devastating disease is an effort to be undertaken …

“I received a lot of advice while I was going through my surgeries and treatments from some very strong women, and I take it with me everyday. The one thing that kept me going was: ‘There is life after breast cancer, a life that is full of the experiences you had before it, during it and most of all, after.’”

From Oct. 17 through Nov. 4, students and faculty of all schools in the District were encouraged to bring in at least $1 for the Komen Philadelphia Affiliate. More than 77 schools participated — many classrooms holding their own fundraising contests to far surpass the dollar-per-student suggestion — raising more than $35,780 for the Komen Philadelphia Affiliate.

Regarding the history of the Komen organization, Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, that she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer. In 1982, that promise became Susan G. Komen for the Cure and launched a global breast cancer prevention movement.

Today, Komen for the Cure is the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures. They have received some criticism, however, for threatening lawsuits against other cancer-fighting organizations that use the word “Cure” in their names.

For the 2011-2012 season, the Komen Philadelphia Affiliate is investing over $2 million in the form of grants to 38 local organizations for their breast health and breast cancer awareness projects. For more information about Komen, breast health or breast cancer, visit komen.org or call 1-877-GO-KOMEN.