Approximately 8,600 people every year are diagnosed with breast cancer in New Jersey. Each of those individuals probably has their own unique response to hearing this life changing news; but I suspect not many would take this diagnosis and turn it into a personal life mission like Paula Flory, Founder and Executive Director of Move Over Breast Cancer did.
A Life Changing Diagnosis
In 2011, Flory was told she had Stage 3 breast cancer. Flory was living in Princeton raising her two children, then ages sixteen and seventeen, when she discovered the lump in her armpit. The diagnosis was devastating. Flory, with her background in psychology and a masters degree in counseling, was temporarily floored by this news. It took a moment of peaceful reflection barefoot in the grass one day for her to come to terms with her new reality. “That moment I understood I had no control over what was happening, but I felt I would discover why later. The reasons would reveal themselves to me, that’s when I felt calm,” said Flory.
Learning How to Help While Healing
Two years after her diagnosis and post chemotherapy, Flory went to work as Director of the Y Princeton Breast Cancer Resource Center. During her eight-year tenure there, Flory participated in a trip to India; and later was invited specifically to Rwanda by The International Organization for Women and Development (IOWD) in conjunction with their gynecological mission trips. Flory explained to me that while patient interaction on these trips was moving, she felt the most tangible benefits were the coaching given to the doctors on how to speak to women and how to approach them sensitively, that was the true benefit of these trips. In 2019, Flory was recognized by Breast Cancer Wellness Magazine as a Leader of the Year. She has also been nominated for their 2023 “Believed They Could and Did” Award — those announcements are still pending.
Covid put an end to Flory’s travels, but it didn’t stop her dreaming. And Flory dreams BIG! Her vision to provide a safe, compassionate, non-clinical breast cancer resource and support program on wheels is truly a unique experience. When Flory says, “the problem became an opportunity,” she is serious. Flory took her own experiences; the needing rides to get to chemo treatments, the sadness of hair loss, the embarrassment of going wig shopping and came to the conclusion a mobile van is just what people experiencing breast cancer needed. You see, Flory is a bit of an empath. She felt that if she was struggling— given the abundance of support she had access to— she could only extrapolate how hard it must be for those without an intact support system.
It took over a year of fundraising and outfitting the van to match the vision Flory had, but on September 27, 2020, the Mobile Resource Lounge & Salon was launched. After logging thousands of miles now, the van has serviced hundreds of individual women with wig fittings, mastectomy bra fittings, make-up tutorials and transportation to treatment and more. Thousands of people have toured the van at community events trying to get the word out to those in need of services.
More Than Skin Deep
Why the van and why offer a glam day of beauty? Flory explains it this way: “It starts out about the aesthetic, but it always evolves into a more meaningful conversation. There’s a lot of talking during the day.” Flory will roll up to a specified location along with hair and make-up artists and photographers. The individual is treated to a day of hair and make-up, styling, and pampering. A champagne lunch may even be included after the photo-shoot. But all along the way, the counselor and empath in Flory is talking and sharing too, “I want people to know it’s about all the challenges in life. When we share, even the ugly details, it makes people more comfortable. It brings hope where there was fear and desperation.”
Healing Mind and Body
There are other organizations that offer different levels of assistance to those going through breast cancer, like the American Cancer Society, and these organizations are great. However, by tagging themselves as a “resource center” Move Over Breast Cancer has made a deeper commitment to offer a broader and more personalized level of assistance. Flory spends hours on the phone each week fielding calls and doing intake. I jokingly referred to her “rolodex full of contacts” but believe me, she is a walking human resource center. Her holistic vision of working with patients to not just get through the chemotherapy, or physical part of their diagnoses, but also more importantly to help with the mental effect that hearing you have cancer brings with it. Each experience on the van is personalized for the individual after consulting with Flory on specific needs and wants.
The Small Details Matter
Flory has driven the van from New York to Philadelphia assisting people and she has lots of stories. One that makes her smile is the woman who was diagnosed while undergoing her fifth pregnancy. Flory brought the van to her house and met with the woman but when it was all done, she asked if her oldest daughter could come out to see the van. Flory brought the little girl out to the van and the child was delighted by all the pink and sparkly lights. Flory knew the woman had four kids so she had gotten presents for all of them which she handed to the little girl to distribute to her siblings. I don’t know who had a bigger smile that day, the little girl, the mom, or Paula Flory— it was probably a tie. That’s the kind of level of personal involvement Flory makes to her survivors. I’m only half joking when I refer to Flory as half Fairy Godmother, half Life Coach.
Funding the Dream
All of the services provided by Move over Breast Cancer are provided at no cost to the patient. There is no involvement with insurance, this is a registered 501C3 non-profit. Funding is secured through donations and this is a new and growing organization. Their big golf tournament fundraiser, Pink Links, is being held Monday, August 14 at the beautiful Forsgate Country Club in Monroe on two courses. It features a 1:00 p.m. shotgun start and 5:00 p.m. banquet. WRAT radio station will provide entertainment. There’s going to be both a live and silent auction. This year, the silent auction has a unique item; the opportunity to win a trip to a spa in Utah where the winner will hike in Zion National Park. This auction item is designed to be gifted to a breast cancer survivor. That truly represents the spirit of giving.
Not a golfer but still want to help? In September, the USSSA Softball Tournament will be held at Mercer County Park in West Windsor. Men and women from all over the state participate and all proceeds benefit Mover Over Breast Cancer. Spectators are welcome.
There are a lot of challenges faced by any new non-profit organization, and money is certainly one of the largest. Because MOBC never charges for any services, everything must be either donated or paid for by someone else. Flory looks forward to hiring a fundraising coordinator in the future, as her strengths lean to the services side more than funding. Other needs (hint, hint) include; volunteers to manage a regular newsletter and a weekly podcast make her wish list.
Life in the Fast Lane
The statistics are overwhelming, the cases keep coming, she has her own diagnosis in the back of her mind — I asked Flory how she does it, how does she keeps sane, not drowning in it? “I use my own fears to help other people. It’s more of an exchange. I cry along with them. I believe I was put on this earth to do this,” she said. “It’s a privilege to do the work, I don’t see it as work at all.” When asked what keeps her up at night Flory replied, “how to thank the people who helped me to do this.” Her proudest moment was, “the day the van was delivered, seeing my vision become a reality. I began to believe in myself that day.”
Angels Among Us
I have not heard the words “you have breast cancer” personally, but someone I love dearly has. So, I can empathize to a degree with the emotional upheaval this diagnosis has on a person’s body and mind. It is a life-altering diagnosis that can knock the wind out of your hopes and dreams for the future in a heartbeat.
There are 3.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States alone and each year, 1,300 New Jerseyans lose their battle to this disease— it is the second leading cause of death for women in our state. We are incredibly lucky that someone like Flory has chosen to marshal her pain, her fears and her own anxiety and channel it towards making the world a little easier for those on the same path. When Flory says, “I’m just driving the van,” with a twinkle in her eye, we know there’s so much more going on— she’s driving towards hope.
About the Author/s
Sue graduated from Rutgers University with a B.A. in English back when you could still get a degree for reading great literature. She spent nearly 40 years working in the Sales & Marketing field with companies ranging from non-profits to small businesses to Fortune 100 Corporations. Most recently retired after nearly 20 years with S & P Global, she is now free to pursue her true passions for hiking, writing and photography. Sue was born and raised in New York State. As a New Jersey transplant, her passion for the special blend of culture and nature that is uniquely Jersey is what Sue loves to share with the world. She has one grown son that she is insanely proud of. Her husband of many decades is an amazing partner both in life and hiking. When not out exploring, Sue is most likely at home reading a novel with her dog.