Living in Pink Foundation Gift Supports Breast Cancer Research in Local Underserved Communities
Michele Conley ’84 could throw a 40-yard spiral, run a marathon, lead a pack of cyclists on a 20-mile ride and climb a 14,000-foot mountain. Beyond all that, she was a successful professional and a devoted mother.
“I used to tell people that she got more done before 8:30 am than I did the entire day,” recalls Mark Eigenbrode, her husband.
Even after her first cancer diagnosis in 1998, Conley remained vibrant. After a recurrence in 2002, she established the Living in Pink Foundation to advocate for breast cancer patients and survivors, and support breast cancer research and prevention programs. She died in 2014.
Now the foundation, in one of its last initiatives, has made a $100,000 gift to support two breast cancer research initiatives at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.
The gift will equally support the research efforts of Cheryl Knott, a professor of behavioral and community health and Cher Dallal, an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics.
Knott’s Community Health Awareness, Messages and Prevention (CHAMP) lab works to train lay community health advisers to deliver cancer early prevention workshops in African American churches throughout Prince George’s County and Baltimore City. She hopes to use the foundation’s gift to leverage the CHAMP lab’s existing infrastructure and community partnerships to increase breast cancer awareness among younger women who are less likely to be knowledgeable about cancer. This work will further promote the capacity of these communities to advocate around their health.
Dallal’s work centers on understanding how behavioral risk factors like physical inactivity, sedentary behavior and obesity affect biological mechanisms underlying breast cancer risk and survivorship. She is currently recruiting breast cancer survivors from the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center and hopes to use this gift to broaden her recruitment efforts to women seen for care at other University of Maryland Medical System hospitals. Using metabolomics—the study of the small-molecule intermediates and products of metabolism—she will build on her prior research focusing on estrogen metabolism in breast cancer risk. Her long-term aim is to understand the racial disparities in breast cancer mortality and survivorship, and whether relationships between behavioral and biological factors can explain these disparities.
A native of New York State, Conley earned a volleyball scholarship to Maryland. She went on to become a State Farm insurance representative and an accomplished athlete even as she raised her family, including four children, in Chevy Chase, Md. Since she started Living in Pink, it has funded a variety of local and national research endeavors. The nonprofit will soon close after 16 years, after making its final gifts to Breast Care for Washington and UMD.
“Michele’s goal was to give back to the community,” added Eigenbrode. “With Maryland’s local research and outreach, Living in Pink felt these programs checked all the boxes and furthered Michele’s goal.”