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'Why I run': Doctor helps breast cancer patients, survives cancer herself

"I’ve always wanted to run with my patients but I wasn’t physically able to," said cancer survivor Dawn Mussallem.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Since 2015, Dr. Dawn Mussallem has shared her expertise at the Mayo Clinic. 

“I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to start a lifestyle medicine program within the Jacoby Center for Breast Health and Mayo Clinic, and that is one of the most rewarding parts of my career to date," Mussallem said. 

Mussallem says she helps breast cancer patients before and after treatment, which is why the Donna Foundation's mission is dear to her heart.

“I work with patients that many times have some various needs. Whether it’s a financial need or an emotional need, and so the Donna Fund has been an area where I’ve been able to refer my patients for assistance," Mussallem said. 

Mussallem says although she hasn't experienced breast cancer firsthand, she's able to put herself in patients' shoes. 

“For me, my disease is what has defined me. I’ve learned a lot in medical school, but I learned everything from being a patient," Mussallem said. "I had a huge tumor in my chest and it collapsed my lung. It was wrapped around my heart, so my heart wasn’t beating properly and I was diagnosed with stage four lymphokines lymphoma.”  

After fighting cancer, Mussalem was diagnosed with heart failure in 2003 and wouldn't be put on the heart transplant list for 16 years. 

“The hope came. Let's list you for transplant I was so excited so I got listed for transplant in 2019 in December and I waited over a year and there was no match," Mussallem said. 

Mussallem would get the call on Feb. 5, 2020, and while preparing to get her life back, she says the Donna Marathon was on her mind. 

“I remember wanting so bad to be a part of that marathon myself because it was just so inspiring being able to see individuals run and doing something for the marathon on behalf of themselves or another person," Mussallem said. 

Now, on the year anniversary of Mussalem's heart transplant, she will finally become the inspiration she admired. 

“I get to run with a few of my patients for so many years since the start of the donna marathon I’ve always wanted to run with my patients but I wasn’t physically able to," Mussallem said. "It’s part of my life that was taken away from me for 18 years that I sat and I waited to get back.”  

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