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Her own breast cancer brought woman to activism

The way Dee Dee Ricks sees it, affordable health care is not a political or an economic issue; it’s a moral imperative for America.

“People should not die because they are poor, and that is what’s going on in our country,” says Ricks, a wealthy businesswoman whose own battle with breast cancer turned her into a national champion for poor and uninsured women struggling with the disease that caused her to have a double mastectomy in 2007.

Ricks became acutely aware of the differences in care she received compared to low-income women through a friendship she developed with a woman who also had breast cancer. The other woman, Cynthia Dodson, died.

“She was my soul sister,” Ricks, 44, says. “She was a receptionist. She worked very hard 10 hours a day, but when she was diagnosed she was a contract employee with no health insurance.”

The experience propelled Ricks to not only begin speaking about the need for quality care for everyone, but to put her money where her mouth is.

Ricks has raised approximately $12 million for the Harold P. Freeman Institute for Patient Navigation in New York, which makes cancer diagnosis and treatments more accessible to the poor and uninsured, and she has given more than a $1 million toward the cause.

Ricks recalls the day she was diagnosed in April 2007.

“My first fear was, ‘I’m not going to make it.’ I was in a panic. I had a 2- and a 5-year-old. Who’s going to raise my kids?”

She channeled that fear into learning about the disease and getting the best care she could. In the process she learned that not everyone gets that same care.

She was struck by the disparity because she was not born into wealth.

“I came from a broken family and had a difficult childhood,” she says. “From the age of 13, I more or less raised myself.”

That experience led her to a young adulthood filled with volunteering to help others less fortunate.

But as she gained a solid footing in the financial industry, she got away from that, says Ricks, who is the head of Ricks Consulting Group in New York, which manages and creates strategies for hedge funds.

She credits several factors for her success: having to learn to make it on her own, always being active in school, seeking out leadership positions and having determination to succeed.

“I learned to never take ‘no,’” she says. “If you want something, you work really hard to get it.”

But you also give back and help others along the way, she says.

“Cancer got me back to who I was and to my roots,” says Ricks, who has been cancer-free for five years.

How’s she feeling these days?

“I’ve never felt healthier or more in tune with who I am physically and emotionally,” Ricks says.

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