No stopping 3-time cancer survivor
In 15 years, Tuggle has raised more than $100,000 for the Komen fund
Mary Kai Tuggle just turned 70, and she's loving it. “I live every day to the fullest,” she said.
How could she not, having survived three bouts with breast cancer (1991, 1993 and 2002). One clear indicator of the Westside resident's zeal is her annual volunteer fundraising efforts for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, going back to 1995. In fact, her best year was 2002, when she raised about $14,000 while fighting off the worst of her three cancers. “I'd just had chemo, and people felt sorry for me,” Tuggle said with a game smile.
She can even chuckle now about her near-death experience that year. For unknown reasons, after a chemotherapy treatment, she developed a blood infection and was rushed to the emergency room with a fever of 105. She'd already lost her hair to the illness (she'd had her husband Kenny shave off the remaining wisps for consistency's sake), but her granddaughters who came for a hospital visit had never seen her without a wig or looking so weak. “Grandma, are you going to die?” asked the youngest, who was 8. Summoning what little strength she had, Tuggle sat up and replied firmly, “Honey, no.” As soon as they left, she recalled, “I laid back. I felt so sick.”
Her biggest Komen fundraiser, the annual Holiday Luncheon, with door prizes and a silent auction, is coming up Saturday, Dec. 5, from 2 to 4:30 p.m. It will be at the Lettuce Head Restaurant, 2917 Galley Road, which is owned by fellow Westsider Terry Bailey. The cost is $25, with reservations requested by Monday, Nov. 30. For more information, call Tuggle at 635-9269.
A retired nurse who is now six years into a pharmacy technician career, Tuggle has often been the leading individual Komen fundraiser locally. Her total dropped to $7,100 for the race this year - a result of her providing home-hospice care for her husband Kenny, who died two months ago after an illness of several months.
His loss was a blow, but Tuggle said that at last “I had to pick myself up and keep going. What else could I do? I haven't survived three breast cancers to give up now.”
Last year her Holiday Luncheon brought in $1,500. Tuggle said she has sent out 75 individual invitations and is taking flyers for the event around to medical facilities, cancer centers, nurses she knows and “wherever I can get them out.”
Other fundraising methods include talking to businesses, making appeals through a newsletter that she publishes and sends out to about 200 people or just purchasing items to sell (some of them at the race itself). She's even helped develop two cookbooks (the most recent titled “Is There Pink Chocolate?”), with proceeds also going to Komen.
Overall, Tuggle summed up, “You don't come up with $10,000 [her average amount of annual fundraising] out of the sky.”
Tuggle has been a supporter of the Race for the Cure since it started in Colorado Springs in 1995. At the time, she was coming back from her second lumpectomy (removal of a cancerous lump) - she's had three such surgeries in all. “That first year I raised $2,300, and I cried, because I thought it was so much,” she said.
Overall, through the years, she has raised close to $115,000 for Komen research.
Now a great-grandmother (five times over, with a sixth on the way), Tuggle grew up in the Pikes Peak region. In the Canon City area, she was a cheerleader for the Abbey School.
She is also part of the Brock family that had a grocery store and cider stand on Colorado Avenue in the 1950s. Back then, she helped the family look for ways to attract motorists to pull over and spend money on the business. Such sales experiences were an unforeseen harbinger of her current life. “I don't have any qualms about asking anybody for anything when it's for the cause,” Tuggle said. “I feel like it's what I'm supposed to be doing.”
Her story about what drives her is similar to the Komen story itself. The movement started in the 1980s when a close friend promised Susan Komen, who was dying of breast cancer, that she would work to find a cure. Tuggle wants to see that happen too, even though “I don't know if it's a reality.” Someday, she said, she would like to be able to tell her great-grandchildren, “We don't have breast cancer anymore.”
Westside Pioneer article