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Life & Work with Kommah (Koko) McDowell

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kommah (Koko) McDowell.

Kommah (Koko), we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
In 2005, I was diagnosed at stage IV with two rare forms of breast cancer, Triple Negative Inflammatory Breast Cancer. This diagnosis changed the trajectory of my life and led me to the world of cancer. After being told I had a five percent chance of surviving two years with a zero percent chance of having children, at 29 years old, I was devastated. Over the course of two years, I had completed aggressive chemotherapy, radiation treatment, two mastectomies, two reconstruction surgeries, got married, and started a non-profit organization. I was on a mission of survival while trying to leave a legacy for myself as I faced a looming expiration date. It was through my non-profit that I met the ladies of Breast Cancer Solutions.

In my efforts of helping cancer patients survive their treatment process with daily expenses, I began partnering with BCS to create a safety net for women battling. We were able to extend the length of our client’s services by working together with their best interest in mind, it was amazing yet scary as I faced what seemed to be a ticking time bomb. Fortunately, life continued for me beyond the two years, and I continued to serve as a critical resource for other patients in treatment. Four years after treatment, my husband and I were blessed with a son, which added to my existing role as a wife, now mother, and businesswoman. I was the queen of balancing until my beautiful four-year-old son looked me square in the eyes and said, “Mommy, you have another meeting?” With that heart-wrenching statement, I realized that I was striving to build a legacy, all the while, my legacy was standing in front of me. It was that precise moment that I realized my balancing act was focused on the wrong thing. After discussing this revelation with my husband, we decided to dissolve our foundation and we moved 80 miles away to start over.

After volunteering at my son’s school, then working for the school, volunteering at church, and helping out wherever I could, I realized my heart really was for the cancer community. Out of the blue, in 2018, I reached out to Breast Cancer Solutions and was glad to discover that Jennifer Anderson was the Executive Director. She and I had worked together years prior creating safety nets for clients. I expressed a desire to get involved with BCS, as I had no desire to start up my organization again. She welcomed me with open arms and soon after, I joined the board of directors in 2019.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Supporting patients in the trenches of treatment is never smooth. As a patient and advocate, I know firsthand how important it is to support patients through one of the hardest fights of their lives. Living expenses, food, transportation, and co-payments are critical necessities for patients and their family to survive the treatment process, let alone the impact treatment has on the patient and their family physically, mentally, and emotionally. Breast Cancer Solutions has been a leading organization in Orange County providing critical resources to breast cancer patients directly. Based in Orange County, we have and have had our thumbprint on Inland Empire and San Diego counties. Over the past 23+ years, we have assisted over 4,600 clients; we have disbursed over $5.1M in direct financial assistance for living expenses and out-of-pocket medical costs to ensure access to treatment. The need is great; therefore, we continue to seek funding through grants, community partners, fundraisers, employee giving campaigns, donor matching, and local business. Financial support is our greatest struggle because there is no shortage of breast cancer patients, so the need will always exceed our resources. However, despite this fact, we will do everything in our power to help as many breast cancer patients as we possibly can.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I consider myself blessed to be alive today, let alone being a mother. My journey with cancer has laid the foundation to my professional life of philanthropy and service. Currently, I work at North Coast Church in Vista, CA as a Life Groups Operations Coordinator. I am also the author of Silver Lining: Cancer was the best worst thing that ever happened to me. This book gives a fly on the wall view into my journey through cancer, an attempted adoption, and relationships. I am a National Patient Speaker for City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Research Institution located in Duarte, CA. I am a professional Patient Advocate and Community Research Partner with Bench to Community, which is a research initiative lead by community stakeholders. Lastly, I am a motivational speaker who empowers others to believe in the impossible possible. I choose to live to serve so long as I am able.

Can you tell us more about what you were like growing up?
As a child growing up, I was very active and valued trust, respect, and integrity. I was often involved in advocacy in some form of fashion because I have always had a heart for the underdog. I was a galvanizer and was able to rally the troops for any cause I was passionate about. I learned the art of persuasion in high school and won many speeches honing my craft of public speaking. Athletically, I was a dancer and swimmer. I participated in student councils beginning in sixth grade until I graduated from high school. My sister and I were raised in the church by a single mom. We found ourselves at church five to six days a week in the evening, we loved it. It is the culmination of these life experiences that have shaped me into the active advocate I am now. My passion for cancer patients and Breast Cancer Solutions is what drives me now. As I live to serve, my family and I have dedicated our lives to helping others survive.

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