Stearns ‘right person at right time’ to lead Pink Lemonade Project in pandemic

Susan Stearns took the helm at Pink Lemonade Project on March 2, just as the

Susan Stearns took the helm at Pink Lemonade Project on March 2, just as the world was starting to fall apart. For the past six months, she’s navigated the Vancouver-based nonprofit through a pandemic and found new ways of connecting with people affected by breast cancer.

“We’re kind of dancing in the moment,” Stearns said.

Her background includes 25 years in health care policy reform. In 1993, Stearns worked on the Clinton Health Care Task Force and she spent one summer at the National Institutes of Health, where her cubical was down the hall from the now well-known White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci.

At one point, Stearns ran a small business out of her home in Portland. So, she’s not fazed by running Pink Lemonade Project out of her living room.

Still, the COVID-19 pandemic has stymied the organization in a few significant ways. For one, it can’t hold its popular retreat series for survivors near Crown Point in the Columbia River Gorge. (Reservations were made for 2021 with hopes that the series can reemerge.)

Programming and events have shifted online, which actually broadened the organization’s reach both in terms of where participants live and where they are in their breast cancer treatment. Traffic and crossing the Interstate 5 Bridge alone can be barriers to attending in-person events. And, these gatherings attracted people who had the time, energy and health to make the effort, typically people who were ending treatment. Now, people who are actively undergoing chemotherapy, and may often feel weak and tired, can join online and engage in that community. Pink Link, an online event series, features health care providers tackling different topics and classes such as art therapy and cooking.

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