IIA Cancer Survivor Leads Central Florida’s Fight for a Cure
Each October, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure campaign puts pink on the map, making breast cancer awareness and prevention a front-and-center priority for millions of Americans. Dozens of familiar household product packages bear the familiar pink ribbon, and even the toughest professional athletes don pink shoes and wristbands in honor of breast cancer awareness. At the same time, companies and individuals band together to raise funds to support breast cancer research and treatment. For the past three years, The IIA has been among these companies, emerging as a leader in Central Florida’s fight against breast cancer. Each year, its 160 headquarters staff members eat, race, and play for the cause — and they do it for one of their own.
On Sept. 10, 2009, Michelle Goembel, manager of sales operations at The IIA, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was just 41 years old when the results of her routine mammogram came back positive, and her doctor delivered the shocking news. “Given my age, physical condition, and the care I took with my heath, I found the diagnosis very difficult to believe,” she admits. “I had never known anyone who had breast cancer and lived. It just didn’t feel real.”
Goembel, who at that time was coping with her grandfather’s own losing battle with cancer, heeded her doctor’s advice to “move quickly” and underwent a double mastectomy the following month. Two months and four surgeries later, she returned to work. “At first, everybody was walking on eggshells around me,” she recalls. “They weren’t sure what to say.”
Although they may not have been able to find the right words, her coworkers at The IIA knew how to express their support. During her medical leave of absence, The IIA had begun a Komen for the Cure movement, headed by Human Resources Generalist Theresa Harter, which raised nearly $10,900 in 2010.
The following year, Harter handed the reins to Goembel, who ran with it — quite literally. In 2011, she captained The IIA’s 40-person team, which participated in the annual Susan G. Komen Central Florida Race for the Cure and raised more than $12,160. The IIA was recognized as the highest grossing contributor out of any Central Florida company participating in the fundraising campaign that year.
By 2012, there was no question who would champion The IIA’s ever-growing annual fundraising tradition. Under Goembel’s leadership, the company’s now 50-person team divided itself into four sub-groups, which held friendly fundraising competitions throughout the month of October. Groups organized a bake sale, which raised more than $400 in one day. They also took donations for 300 Mylar balloons to which messages for coworkers could be attached. From a silent auction, to a raffle, to a game of BINGO, a wine ring toss, and an in-office shopping event featuring local vendors such as Avon and Scentsy, the creative competitions kept the groups motivated to outdo one another.
The IIA staff’s enthusiasm even spilled out into the local community. Fundraising groups reached out to businesses such as Gator’s Dockside and Orange Leaf Yogurt, which donated 10 percent of their proceeds on specified fundraising nights. Dexter’s in Lake Mary also donated to the cause.
By the end of November — the official end of the annual Susan G. Komen for the Cure campaign — The IIA had collected more than $18,300, making it the highest Central Florida company contributor for the second year in a row. Even before the official results of this year’s fundraising efforts were tallied, IIA staffers had begun talking about doing it bigger and better next year. “I’m fortunate to work for a place that has embraced this worthy cause,” notes a humble Goembel. “It’s been three years, and there’s no end in sight!”
All told, Goembel and her IIA family have raised more than $41,000 for Susan G. Komen during the last three years. “The IIA has made an impact on worldwide research and has made a difference right here in the Central Florida community,” says a joyfully tearful Goembel. “It’s a blessing to be part of an organization with such compassion and drive.”