Breast cancer survivor Aloma Dawson flew all the way from New York City to be part of the local chapter of the American Cancer Society's annual breakfast fund-raiser Saturday honoring surgical oncologist Dr. Bert Petersen and three other outstanding Virgin Islanders — Dr. Alfred O. Heath, Monica Crowe and Charlene deLugo-Jones.
Three hundred people attended the "very emotional" event Saturday morning at Wyndham Sugar Bay, according to Janice Popo, former Cancer Society president. Everyone who was honored was a Virgin Islander, she pointed out.
Dawson, a St. Thomian who now lives in New York City, began her ordeal with breast cancer almost five years ago at age 26.
Dawson and Petersen met at a wedding in St. Thomas just after she had her first surgery, according to Petersen. "We became very close friends instantly," he said.
Petersen said he had heard about Dawson and her battle before meeting her.
"I was expecting to see someone who looked very ill, but what I met was this beautiful 26-year-old woman," he said.
Petersen has walked though Dawson's five-year ordeal with her, "losing her hair, and even a reoccurrence that required surgery." Petersen said he could not perform the surgery because of his emotional involvement.
Petersen was moved to tears Saturday, according to one attendee, as he introduced Dawson, saying she was the person who had
motivated him to pursue his area of specialization even further.
Petersen explained in a conversation with St. Thomas Source that African American women under the age of 50 have a higher rate of breast cancer than any other population. He said breast cancer in black women is also associated with more high-risk features, such as lymph nodes that are positive and estrogen and progesterone receptors that are negative, which makes tumors resistant to chemotherapy.
Dawson has appeared on national talk shows with Petersen, trying to raise awareness about the aggressive nature of breast tumors diagnosed in young black women.
Petersen, a native St. Thomian, was also the keynote speaker for the ACS breakfast. He too lives in New York City and practices medicine at Beth Israel Hospital.

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