Hurricane Katrina took many things from New Orleans evacuee Wanda Richardson, including the will to undergo breast cancer surgery. Love has given her strength to renew the fight. For Richardson, that love flowed from many directions Thursday at the OU Medical Center - Dr. William Dooley, director of the OU Breast Institute; long-time friend Linda Powell; Red Cross volunteer Gina Humphrey of Muskogee; and parish nurse Caryl Prati of Moore. All attended Richardson's first doctor's appointment since she survived the storm. Dooley triggered the landslide of compassion, offering to donate his services for Richardson's surgery. He learned of Richardson's saga in an article that appeared in The Oklahoman about Camp Gruber evacuees. "I was scheduled to have breast cancer surgery August 31, said Richardson, 50, and now living in Glenpool. "The storm hit August 29. Everything was just going so fast. I was fighting for my life. I felt hopeless. "I figured I had it and I'll die with it. Richardson's outlook changed dramatically during her three-week stay at Camp Gruber, especially the day she was asked to retrieve a message at the camp medical center. "It was amazing, Humphrey said. Richardson cried when she read about Dr. Dooley's offer, and was so elated she left his contact information at the medical center. Her family medical history provides some insight into her joy. Both of her grandmothers died from breast cancer, and her mother is a three-year survivor of the disease. "I had to call back later to get the info, Richardson said with a laugh. The New Orleans native grabbed Dooley's attention for one simple reason. "I found a large, large number of indigent women were not being treated for breast cancer in Oklahoma, Dooley said. "Or they were having a very hard time staying in the system. "I found it appalling. So I set about to change the system so those patients could be identified and treated and could actually complete their treatment. "Only about 30 percent of breast cancer patients were completing treatment. Today, that number is closer to 90 percent. Wanda symbolizes the very person we don't want to lose. Powell is amazed Richardson has come so far. The two survived the hurricane in her New Orleans home, then waded past bodies for nearly 20 blocks in waist-high water to find refuge at the Louisiana Superdome. "She puts on a good picture most days, Powell said. "But I've seen her in those quiet times, when she had no more tears to cry. But I'm glad she's here. She saved my life. "She carried me when the water was too deep to walk.
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