End of an era: The Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester’s leader steps down

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Here’s a question for you. Do you remember what you were doing in 1999? For one woman in our community, the answer is easy. She was volunteering for an organization she would later lead, helping make it one of the cornerstones of this region’s cancer community.

In the early days of the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester, it had but one employee, Holly Anderson. She was the newly hired executive director, the staff, the receptionist, and the program coordinator. During the last two decades she built a non-profit that serves the entire region. But at the end of the year, Anderson is stepping down from the job.

All the Breast Cancer Coalition is known for — from its free yoga classes, support groups, educational seminars, and more than a million dollars given to researchers working to eradicate cancer — is because of Anderson’s vision. She has served as executive director for 23 of the coalition’s 25 years in Rochester.

“She created our research initiative way back in 2002 before I was even involved with the organization,” said Patricia Battaglia, the associate communications director of BCCR. “Not only does she want to address the human aspect of the disease, she wants to see it end.”

Battaglia has been with the coalition for more than a decade. She credits Anderson with the creation of all coalition’s programs and services.

“She brought just a boatload of ideas,” said Battaglia.

Those ideas were borne of knowledge and experience. Anderson came to the coalition as a healthcare provider and a stage III breast cancer survivor.

“Well, she absolutely understands the impact of a breast cancer diagnosis, how that affects the entire human being,” said Battaglia.

And that understanding has helped the coalition grow to an organization that serves more than 7,000 breast and gynecologic cancer survivors in 27 counties.

Kathy Simpson is one of about 400 BCCR volunteers. She says she began serving the organization years before she, too, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She says Anderson’s passion drew her to BCCR.

“She’s like a magnet and draws people in, and we don’t easily say no,” said Simpson. “I think Holly has an amazing blend of gifts and talents.”

And after more than two decades, Anderson has decided to take those talents elsewhere, stepping down from leading the coalition but never from the mission. She is now turning her attention to influencing public policy in cancer care and research.

“I see myself moving in that direction,” said Anderson. “Although I have white hair now thanks to COVID, I’m not ready for retirement.”

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not at all objective about the gifts Anderson brings.  I’m on the coalition’s advisory council, and when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I called Anderson before telling my family. Now the coalition begins the search for a new executive director, and he or she has some big shoes to fill.