Kindness in Real Life: East Lyme resident named Breast Cancer Leader of the Year

Rose Gerber’s cover photo published in the current edition of Breast Cancer Awareness Magazine that names her Breast Cancer Leader of the Year. (Photo by Isabella Gerber)
Rose Gerber’s cover photo published in the current edition of Breast Cancer Awareness Magazine that names her Breast Cancer Leader of the Year. (Photo by Isabella Gerber)

Rose Gerber says she fell off her chair in surprise after hearing she’d been named National Breast Cancer Leader of the Year by a leading wellness magazine.

Gerber, a longtime East Lyme resident, is currently director of patient advocacy and education for the Community Oncology Alliance. She was featured on the cover of Breast Cancer Awareness Magazine’s Winter edition that just came out.

“Receiving the award was such a surprise and an honor,” Gerber said in an email. “Remarkably I read this magazine 14 years ago when I was a patient, I still read it today for its inspiring articles. The magazine is mailed to cancer centers in all 50 states and a multitude of other locations.”

Gerber has told her story countless times before, to friends, fellow cancer patients and during seminars and conventions. But the story in a national magazine, written by Gerber herself, is an intimate portrayal, made all the more remarkable because her daughter, Isabella Gerber, a communications student at Quinnipiac University, wound up taking the cover photo.

As Gerber tells it, she sent several photos shot professionally during her oncology events, but it was the one her own daughter took that was chosen by the editor.

Gerber has survived more than 20 years after being diagnosed with HER2 positive invasive breast cancer, a rare form of breast cancer, as well as Ductal Carcinoma in situ (DCIS).

“Almost every cancer survivor will tell you that when you hear ‘you have cancer,’ your mind goes blank,” she writes. “It was true. I could not even process what I was hearing. It was when I looked at my husband, who always has a calm and stoic demeanor, and saw tears in his eyes, did I understand what I was being told.”

Under 40 at the time and with two small children, Gerber kept her diagnosis private, not wanting other children to ask questions that might frighten her kids.

“I did not believe my cancer diagnosis was all about me,” she said.

She went through extensive treatment, including eight cycles of chemotherapy and 33 rounds of radiation. She also had multiple surgeries and participation in three clinical trials including one for Herceptin.

“Unfortunately, few patients participate in clinical trials,” she said. “Herceptin was considered a breakthrough drug for breast cancer. The drug worked for me!”

After getting through the worst of the treatment, Gerber got involved in cancer advocacy, starting with a local advertising campaign for a clinical trial. Gradually, she worked her way up to become a nationally recognized advocate and speaker.

“I walked the halls of Congress alongside my fellow breast cancer advocates, lobbying for breast cancer policy issues,” she writes.

She now works with the Washington, D.C.-based Community Oncology Alliance helping to develop its patient advocacy program.

In her role, she has been particularly concerned with the number of community cancer clinics that are closing.

“What this means for patients is that instead of a going to their local cancer center with a familiar oncologist, they may have to drive hours or hundreds of miles for their oncology appointments,” she writes. “The great news is that we are surviving longer, but we need to ensure that we have access to high quality, affordable cancer care in our own communities.”

To learn more about the Community Oncology Alliance, visit or

Kindness in Real Life is a regular feature in which we encourage writers to tell about kind acts being done in the community. To submit your own story and photos, email Lee Howard at


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