She stood toe-to-toe with cancer long before she joined an Army going into battle in support of others. Janet Campbell Baker was 15 when she first encountered the giant. Her father Hayward Campbell, Jr., PhD, a senior bacteriologist, had just been named vice president of research for Eli Lilly in 1976. Two years later, in October of 1978 he died of cancer at the age of 44.
“Because of his role with Lilly he was required to have a physical every year. It was during that physical, in the midst of an overseas assignment, that lung cancer was discovered,” said Baker, 54.
Like her father, Baker’s cancer was first discovered during an annual exam. In the fall of 2010, during a routine mammogram, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Surgery and radiation followed.
“After five years of hormone therapy I was declared cancer clear, but then in late June - totally unrelated, just unlucky – I was diagnosed with colon cancer,” said Baker, the mother of a high school senior. She was feeling fatigue and had an ongoing cough. Her first suspicion was a reoccurrence of the breast cancer, but a colonoscopy revealed a tumor. She underwent surgery; IU Health oncologist Dr. Paul R. Helft manages her treatment plan.
Three years ago, Baker joined the board of the Heroes Foundation, an organization started by Vince Todd Jr., who at age 26 was fighting his own battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The focus of the public charity is to provide meaningful support to cancer patients, education to promote cancer prevention, and resources to advance research for a cure.
The Heroes Foundation is a supporting partner of the IU Health Simon Cancer Resource Center that provides patient advocacy and assistance programs. Through the assistance of the Heroes Foundation, patients, families and caregivers at IU Simon Cancer Center are able to share dinner, conversation and comfort during a First Monday Support Group at the cancer center.
Founded in 2001, the Heroes Foundation continually grew to include new programs and initiatives focused on the needs of people living with cancer. The staff also grew and last year Baker was named the manager of development. She brought with her a background that includes serving as vice president of external relations for The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. She also worked for The Indianapolis Star and the Indiana Sports Corporation. Beyond her professional credentials, she brought with her personal experience living with cancer.
“What does it mean to work with the Heroes Foundation and live it? I was living as a survivor when I was on the board but this new diagnosis of colon cancer gives me more of a personal connection to the cause,” said Baker. “To be diagnosed not once but twice and see that it not only touches my life but so many others gives you a passion for what you are doing. They say with your job, live your passion. My experience makes me close to the cause and passionate about the work we are doing. To be a patient and to know what the Heroes Foundation is doing – helping people going through cancer, and also supporting doctors and researchers who are spending their lives trying to find a cure - is very personal.”
In part, Baker’s passion is fueled by her belief in self-advocacy. During her time at The Children’s Museum, incredibly, three of her direct reports were diagnosed with breast cancer.
When she meets people who are newly diagnosed, Baker tells them to be a personal advocate for their health. “I learned from one of my dear colleagues who battled cancer that you have to exhaust all avenues for information about your health. I think too often people are turned off by their diagnosis so they run away or they take the doctor’s advice as the only solution. It may be the only solution but it’s always good to get another opinion, ask questions, and do research.”
That’s how she became a patient at IU Health.
“I knew through my work with the Heroes Foundation that I needed to be close to the research and teaching. I needed to be close to cutting edge healthcare,” said Baker.
“Dr. Helft is phenomenal. I knew when I met him that I had an oncologist who was going to treat me using the most current information and knowledge and give me the most up-to-date and compassionate care possible.”
-- By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Banes via email at T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.