MADISON, Wis. - Robin Douthitt has reserved the renovated attic of her garage for women. In the space she calls the “She Shed”, she spends most of her time painting.
“Take the broad brush, you know. Just suggest something and then just step back and enjoy it,” Robin said.
Most of the canvas recreates pictures of trips and places, remembering old memories.
Robin hasn’t done a self-portrait yet, even the picture she cherishes from the finish line of her first Race For the Cure. A bald Robin is smiling, embraced by two friends. One was Virginia Hinshaw. Robin calls her Ginger, and they met at University of Wisconsin-Madison when they both worked on campus.
“When I received my diagnosis, she was the second person I called after I called my husband,” Robin said.
Robin was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer, a disease Ginger was already fighting. Soon, Ginger became a frequent house guest, brining groceries and advice.
Ginger, who was the Dean of the UW-Madison graduate school, left the Midwest for positions at University of California-Davis and eventually Hawaii.
“It's very difficult to be away from family,” Robin said. “She's my family.”
The years Ginger was away, Robin’s doctors found a metastatic tumor in her liver. They were able to remove it, but had to take out a third of her liver in the process.
Five years ago, Ginger was throwing a retirement party, and Robin had booked a flight to go. She went in for a check-up, and they found another tumor.
“It was located in a place where it needed immediate attention if it was going to be addressed in any surgical manner or radiological manner,” Robin said.
Luckily, she had someone in her “family of choice” who could offer some advice and eventually help save her life.
Dr. Louis Hinshaw is a member of UW-Madison’s radiology department and also happens to be Ginger’s son. He not only guided Robin with her treatment, but also performed the surgery that allowed her to keep going.
“She really is alive because of advances in breast cancer care. I've been fortunate enough to be able to add to her care and do tumor ablation, which is a minimally invasive treatment for metastatic breast cancer,” Dr. Hinshaw said.
That procedure is now written up in medical textbooks, Robin said.
“He knows me and he knows his mom. Both of us are pretty strong-willed,” Robin said. “So Tuesday, I went in the hospital. Wednesday, he did the ablation. Friday, I got on a jet and flew to Hawaii.”
Since then, Dr. Hinshaw has been on Robin’s list of physicians. This past winter, Robin had two more occurrences in her liver, which meant two more tumor ablations with Louis.
“She's a wonderful person. She deserves a chance at life just like the rest of us,” Dr. Hinshaw said.
Louis got to deliver the latest good news to Robin just weeks ago: things are stable and there’s no sign of active disease.
“Hearing it from him is always a good thing too. It's like hearing it from a family member,” Robin said.
Meanwhile, Ginger is still living in Hawaii and has been cancer-free for more than 10 years. Robin will still give her a call every once in a while and visited her in the last year.
“Of course when we met, we never imagined we would walk a breast cancer path together,” Robin said. “It's not something either of us ever imagined.”
As for Robin, a forever fighter who didn’t think she’d live into retirement, has her “She Shed," peace of mind, and the support of her “family," the Hinshaws.
“It's been a long, it's been a long, wonderful journey,” Robin said. “And it's just great.”
Both Dr. Hinshaw and Robin Douthitt are participating in Susan G. Komen’s BigWigs competition, raising money for breast cancer research and awareness. You can donate to their campaigns or join them as they celebrate by visiting www.komenwisconsin.org.
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