A prostate cancer diagnosis three years ago set Wallace “Skipper” Brawley on a path of lengthy and difficult treatments.
It also set him on a path to new friendships and opportunities to serve others.
Brawley received care at Gibbs Cancer Center & Research Institute, where he became close to his physicians and nurses.
“I’ve experienced several hospitals, and I have never worked with a more professional, but also caring, group of people,” he said. “I love them to death – I really do.”
Brawley wanted to make a donation to the cancer center in their honor and that led him to the Spartanburg Regional Foundation. He has become a loyal and generous donor and also serves as a member of the Foundation’s cancer division board.
As a member of the cancer division board, Brawley is among a group of talented and dedicated community leaders. The board includes physicians, business leaders and longtime advocates for public health.
Healthcare Experiences Around the World
Brawley brings valuable experience and perspective to the board.
Following a military career in which he served in Vietnam as a Navy pilot, Brawley, who had earned a Sc.D in microbiology while in the service, embarked on a career in medical research. He went to work in Germany for an agency with a similar mission and scope to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
He spent his career there researching various infectious pathogens. Brawley’s work was focused in Germany, but his organization would partner with the CDC and other agencies in special crises.
He was part of team dispatched to Zaire in 1995 in the midst of an Ebola outbreak, which was a frightening assignment.
“None of us really knew what to expect when we got there,” Brawley said.
What they found was, he said, “morbid.” But, “once the initial impact goes by, you go into professional mode.” Over the next few course weeks, Brawley was in and out of central Africa, looking for clues that would help doctors and scientists better understand the spread of the disease and, hopefully, prevent future outbreaks.
While it isn’t easy to compare an Ebola epidemic to the day-to-day workings of a hospital, Brawley points to meaningful similarities: a caregivers’ ability to work under pressure, to deal with unpleasant or frightening situations, and to maintain a focus on solving problems and giving compassionate care.
Brawley marvels at how physicians treat suffering cancer patients and tackle difficult cases.
“I have asked them, ‘How do you cope?,’” he said. “They say, ‘I love what I do.’”
Brawley moved to Spartanburg in the late 1990s to care for his aging father. He lives with his wife, Kay, on the east side of town.
Radiation treatment damaged his pelvic bone, and he now walks with a cane. But, overall, Brawley is feeling good these days.
He enjoys being part of the cancer division board.
“It gives me a feeling of really being part of things,” he said. “It is a joy to work with the group.”
Brawley is known as a friendly and kindhearted man. He visits the staff at the foundation regularly, bringing treats and warm conversation. He also stops by Gibbs Cancer Center & Research Institute in Spartanburg to say hello to the friends he made there.
But from fighting in a war to fighting deadly diseases, Brawley has acquired considerable toughness. It helped him get through cancer treatment and informs his perspective on what other cancer patients go through.
“The word ‘cancer’ plays on one’s nerves significantly,” he said. “But I thought, ‘I can get through this.’ And I have.”
Visit RegionalFoundation.com to learn how to donate to Gibbs Cancer Center & Research Institute.