The Melanoma Concierge: Meet Brenda Busby
When you need a helping hand for information about melanoma prevention, support groups, programs and events, and other resources related to melanoma, Brenda Busby is here to help. She’s your personal melanoma concierge.
How did you first learn about AIM?
When my own daughter Kadynce was diagnosed with melanoma, I connected with a woman in the Houston area who participated in the Houston AIM Walk at MD Anderson. She encouraged us to attend. A few years later, Kadynce was an honoree for the Walk. Originally, all I knew about AIM was that it sponsored melanoma Walks. It has been exciting for me to learn that there is so much more to AIM than just Walks.
What drew you to work for AIM?
I have been heavily involved in the melanoma community for over the last ten years. I have a deep-rooted connection to melanoma patients and all they go through, so coming to AIM made sense. Seeing all of AIM’s education and research programs and knowing that they share my connection to patients made joining the team an easy decision. We share the desire to grow AIM and to find more ways to advocate, educate, raise awareness, and to support the melanoma community. Finally, we share the urgency to fund research desperately needed to eradicate melanoma.
How would you describe your role?
My title is Director of Community Engagement. But when I talk about my position with the community, it takes on so many different aspects for me. I consider myself, first and foremost, a supporter of the melanoma community. After 10 years of being involved in melanoma, I feel like many of the people I talk to are more like family. I listen; I talk through issues; I offer support; and I share frustrations. I am constantly trying to find ways to make this journey easier. I am a liaison between AIM and the community. I take the community’s needs and help AIM find ways to fulfill them, such as turning patient questions into symposia topics or newsletter content or connecting patients to other patients for support. I listen, I help educate, and I teach others how to do those same things.
What is most rewarding about your job?
I truly enjoy “being there” for people. When someone receives a cancer diagnosis, it’s like getting kicked in the chest: You stop breathing for a few seconds; things become a blur, and people are talking to you, but you can’t seem to hear them or focus on their words. And the blur continues for weeks. I feel good knowing that I can help walk people through that journey. When my daughter was diagnosed 11 years ago, I felt the most alone I have ever felt. I remember all too well what it was like to work through that all on my own. Being there for someone, helping someone feel better, and taking away just one second of fear for that person—that’s what is rewarding for me.
What is the most important thing you have learned in the last five years?
That as difficult as it may be, I can’t change the outcomes of every situation. In the time that I have been involved with melanoma. I have met amazing, beautiful people. I have created friendships that span many miles and many years. And, yes, I have lost many people that were dear to me. Realizing that no matter what I do, I can’t change the outcomes of every situation, but I can change how we use that situation as a platform to educate and advocate for melanoma awareness is the most important thing I’ve learned.
How do you balance your career and family?
I am fortunate to have a very supportive husband. He lost his wife to melanoma several years ago, so he has the same passions about melanoma education, research, and awareness that I do. That makes a huge difference. We are all active in the melanoma community. At the same time, our kids are very busy and keep our family schedules full, with football, choir, and many other activities. While I try to always be available for patients, when I do need to step away, it’s usually at the lake. A cup of coffee while watching the lake and the sunrise reenergizes me.
Tell us something about you that is not related to melanoma.
I love old things. Way before farmhouse chic and shiplap were the “in” things, I was obsessed with old things, especially if I can trace them back to a person. I traveled to Mississippi for a butter churn, scouted out eBay for a toy that I had when I was a child, and recently brought home my grandmother’s quilting frame that used to hang from the ceiling in her living room—a keepsake I thought was lost forever. I also really love turn-of-the-century literature: Thoreau, Emerson, Hawthorne and the Alcotts. I have read Walden at least 10 times, and my 1890 copy is one of my favorite possessions.
What is your biggest achievement to date – either personal or professional?
That one is easy. I am proudest of my daughter, all she has accomplished, and the kind of person she is. When she was diagnosed at age two with Stage IIIB melanoma, it would have been easy to turn it into a pity moment, but we never did. She has known from as early as she could understand that she had cancer and that our job was to help other people who were facing the same struggles and educate everyone on prevention. She has lobbied Congress seven times, helped establish the right of children to have sunscreen in schools in Texas, taught sun safety to elementary school kids, spoken at conferences about immunotherapy and her experience with interferon, and participated in 4 different PSA videos. Today at age 13, she embraces her beautiful facial scar and uses it as a platform to talk to friends about melanoma and the dangers of tanning. She is a beautiful person, inside and out. She is my greatest accomplishment.
If you would choose anyone, who would you pick as your mentor?
Professionally, I really enjoy speaking and working with Dr. Vernon Sondak at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, FL. We have collaborated on several projects, and when I have questions, need advice, or just want to share an idea, he is always available. I also have great respect for Krista Rubin at Mass General and know that she is always open to catching up, offering an ear to listen, and giving great advice.
What is your personal motto?
I have this little bird that hangs on a hook by my desk that simply says, “Love what you do.” I know it’s kind of simple, but I apply this advice to everything: Laundry, cooking, driving my kids from place to place, cleaning my house, and especially my work. I know exactly how blessed I am to be able to “work” in a job that I am passionate about.
Brenda Busby joins the AIM at Melanoma team as the Director of Community Engagement. She can be reached by email Brenda@AIMatMelanoma.org or by phone at 415-233-3773.