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Published on April 16, 2018

Judy Davis

Pink Ladies: Where Are They Now? Judy Davis

To say that Judy Davis’ life has been impacted by breast cancer is quite the understatement. “I really have no recollection of my life before breast cancer,” she says.

And as the very first Avera Pink Lady, Davis is an inspiration for many.

“I know I would have had a cause in life – it’s the way I was brought up. This just was one that became so very personal,” Davis said.

She was diagnosed in 1986 with inflammatory breast cancer. “Even though I had a poor prognosis at the time, I was blessed with wonderful medical professionals who helped in my recovery.”

At the time, no one talked much about breast cancer. “The first time I went out to speak about it, nobody showed up,” she remembers. Her sister, Peggy Kirby, and the Junior League of Sioux Falls took on a project to raise awareness, and that’s how the Avera Race Against Breast Cancer got started 30 years ago.

An Aggressive Foe

Inflammatory breast cancer is an aggressive disease in which cancer cells block lymph vessels in the skin of the breast. It’s rare, accounting for only 1 to 5 percent of all breast cancers diagnosed in the United States.

After a double mastectomy, radiation treatments, chemotherapy and Tamoxifen therapy, Davis went on to live a full and productive life. Yet it hasn’t always been an easy life.

Since her original diagnosis of breast cancer, she has also had endometrial cancer. “I also have been bothered with lymphedema in both arms due to the surgical removal of lymph nodes. Radiation was also much different then. They radiated the entire chest area. As a result, three years ago I had to have my chest wall and skin replaced with skin grafts. I feel fortunate that I have had such wonderful doctors who have been able to help me over the years,” Davis said.

As a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Patrick Henry Middle School for 40 years before her retirement in 2010, she had the opportunity to impact many lives. “I was able to help many students through difficult times when someone they loved was dealing with cancer. Talking to someone like me who was surviving and thriving made the experience a little less scary,” she said.

Students and faculty from the school were very supportive through the years by helping to gather and raise funds for an Avera Race team in Davis’ honor.

Something Special

Davis has been present at every Avera Race – except one – for the past 30 years, and she was sorry to have to miss that one due to illness in the family.

“The Race is my special day. I love that day. It is thrilling for me to stand on the stage with Jackie and look out and see what we have accomplished. Family and friends come out to celebrate the survivors and honor those who have gone before us,” she said.

“I cannot thank Jackie and the workers and volunteers enough,” Davis said. Jackie Haggar-Tuschen, Director of the Avera McKennan Fitness Center, has been involved in leadership of the Race since its beginnings.

The Avera Race raises money for projects such as mammography screening, genetic testing, clinical trials, patient navigation services, survivorship programs, Avera’s wig program, integrative medicine and patient education.

Big Changes For The Best

In 2010, Davis served with Jim Woster as co-chair of the Avera McKennan Foundation’s Building Hope campaign to support the construction of the Prairie Center, home of the Avera Cancer Institute in Sioux Falls.

“Back when I had chemo it was literally in a closet. I am proud that I was able to help in a small way with the building of the beautiful Prairie Center. It provides a calm and serene environment where people can go for treatment. I am happy that perhaps I have made a small difference in the lives of cancer patients and their families.”

The 30th Avera Race Against Breast Cancer will be Saturday, May 12. To learn more or register, go to

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