Red Cross president Gail McGovern has cancer; diagnosis came a day after Haiti earthquake

By Brett Zongker, AP
Friday, February 26, 2010

Red Cross president Gail McGovern has cancer

WASHINGTON — Gail McGovern, the president and CEO of the American Red Cross, has been diagnosed with early stage breast cancer but expects to make a full recovery, she said Friday.

McGovern, 58, told The Associated Press in a statement that she learned of her cancer the day after Haiti’s deadly earthquake. She underwent surgery Feb. 11 in Boston, and doctors say her prognosis is excellent.

“I’m feeling healthy and very lucky that my wonderful team of doctors caught this early,” she said. “I expect a full recovery, I’ve dealt with this before, I know what’s in store, and I plan to fly through it as I did previously.”

McGovern was treated for unrelated breast cancer in 2006, which was also caught early.

The next and final phase of treatment is daily radiation therapy for four to six weeks, which will curtail her travel. She plans to continue working at the Red Cross headquarters in Washington while she undergoes treatment.

Since the cancer was diagnosed in January, McGovern has traveled to Haiti to help oversee recovery efforts and to Montreal for a conference to coordinate Haiti relief. She has also continued to meet with Red Cross chapters across the country, spokesman Roger Lowe said.

McGovern said the charity helps so many people who have dealt with hardship that “their strength and courage puts my personal situation in its proper perspective.”

She notified the staff of her diagnosis Friday.

“She wanted to wait until she knew what she was dealing with and what the effect would be on her work before she announced it,” Lowe said.

McGovern took over as president in June 2008, after years of turnover in the top post. She is a veteran executive and former professor of marketing at Harvard — and the fourth full-fledged Red Cross president since 2001, along with three interim leaders.

Before the Haiti earthquake, her primary focus had been restoring the charity’s financial health. The Red Cross laid off a third of its 3,000 employees two years ago, faced with a $210 million deficit. It received an emergency $100 million infusion from Congress and has reduced its deficit substantially.

AP National Writer David Crary contributed to this report

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