La Jollan takes helm of Cancer Society’s California division

By Debbie Hatch

Special to the La Jolla Light

La Jollan Georgia Robins Sadler, Ph.D., is determined to lower cancer death rates. This year, the UCSD researcher and resident is in a good position to do just that.

Sadler began a year-long appointment as president of the California Division of the American Cancer Society (ACS) in October.

She said her focus is on helping the society to achieve its mission, which includes “eliminating cancer as a major health problem.”

Sadler, who is the director of community outreach at the Rebecca and John Moores UCSD Cancer Center and a clinical professor of surgery at the university’s medical school, began volunteering for the American Cancer Society in1981. She said the collaboration with various ACS volunteers gives balance to her scientific research. From artists to marketing gurus, the ACS boasts thousands of volunteers. “It stretches your mind in different ways,” Sadler said.

“My goal is to encourage every volunteer of ACS to share what they know of cancer control with everybody,” Sadler said. “If each of the thousands of ACS volunteers talk to 10 people, we’d have a loud voice.”

While there is not a direct local benefit to Sadler embracing the position, it certainly doesn’t hurt. “You learn from other communities, and you bring that home,” Sadler said. “What is good for Northern California is good for Southern California.”

Sadler visits and shares ideas with faculty and volunteers from all over the state. She has “intellectually luxurious” relationships with faculty at SDSU, UCLA and UC Santa Barbara, to name a few.

“The ACS scours literature trying to find news on cancer,” Sadler said. She brings tangible cancer knowledge and programming to her position. Noticing disparities in cancer-related death rates among minority groups, she initiated educational programs for African-American women, Pacific Islanders and the deaf community.

She advises politicians on health issues and credits former Assemblyman Howard Wayne for getting legislation passed significantly reducing the death rates for breast cancer in women. When Wayne was first elected he contacted Sadler saying, “What do we need?” Sadler’s team answered.

Said Sadler:"If we can find cancer early and treat it early, there will be a cost savings to California.”

She was right. Prior to the bill’s passage, women with little or no health care coverage could be diagnosed with breast cancer but could not be helped until diagnosed as late-stage, which was too late.

Sadler writes grants on weekends and holds weekly meetings with her various groups of students, high school through graduate, assisting in her outreach programs.

“I give my time to do anything I can,” Sadler said, including serving on the San Diego Youth Symphony Board of Trustees.

“The double pleasure is you can have the fun of developing new strategies and the pleasure of having them implemented on a local level,” Sadler said.

The California Division is one of 13 within the ACS. The majority of other divisions include several states. Under Sadler’s leadership, California is a force in the fight against cancer.

“How can we get this done?” has become her mantra for many ideas. Sadler’s top concerns are cancer control, getting people to understand what clinical trials are, how to get involved and closing the gap in health disparities. She created a flourishing program in hair salons for African-American women involving books made in stages. She sends new pages to the salons on a monthly basis to inform women of the risks associated with cancer.

“This program is successful,” Sadler noted, because women continue to come in and see flyers with cancer facts on the mirrors. The beauticians, trained by Sadler, answer questions and talk openly about the risks associated with clients.

Several awards line her office, including Telly and MarCom awards for the short films her team created using American Sign Language and open captioning. “We don’t want to water down info but want to make it accessible,” Sadler said.

Sadler is a long-time La Jollan. She moved here in 1978. She and her husband have two daughters who attended La Jolla public schools. Sadler is frequently at the Sporting Club first thing in the morning or late at night. “I can’t tell people to eat well and stay healthy if I don’t,” she said. “We have enough knowledge to hugely change how cancer affects us.”

Sadler emphasized success in the cancer fight is a matter of creating equal access to what is known about the disease.

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