She’s a survivor

June 18, 2024
Lena Spotleson

Lena Spotleson gives back to UACC CAB after surviving cancer in her 20s

At 26 years old, Community Advisory Board member Lena Spotleson was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and was given a 25% chance of survival only nine months after she and her husband were married. 

“I went to doctor after doctor trying to figure out why I was experiencing an unexplained stomach pain,” she said. “I had no history of cancer in my family and no other symptoms.”

After doctors discovered her cancer, Spotleson underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. After her third round of chemotherapy, she developed an infection, went into septic shock and was put on a ventilator. The medical staff did not think she would live through the night, according to Spotleson. Four days later, through an amazing turn of events, she began coming out of sedation. 


“I got my first clear scan in January of 2007, and I've been cancer free ever since,” she said. “Years ago, when they told you that you had stage four cancer, they used to tell you how many months you had to live and now, because of cancer research, people like me are surviving longer.”

With both bachelor's and master's degrees in education, Spotleson tried to return to her job as a middle school educator and forget about her cancer experience. But about five years later, she felt a strong desire to focus on cancer work.

“As much as I loved teaching, I knew that my life was going in a different direction,” she said. “I left teaching, and I went to work for the American Cancer Society. I wanted to give back to survivors and patients that were going through cancer.”

In 2020, the Phoenix Business Journal recognized Spotleson’s devotion to cancer patients and survivors by giving her the “Outstanding Women in Business” award and in 2021, named her a “Health Care Hero.”

Now, Spotleson works as the director of development for the Banner Health Foundation, where she serves her community in an even greater capacity. 

“Banner's mission is making health care easier so that life is better, and that is all about what I want to do for these patients in this community,” she said. “And that's also what the CAB does. It makes life or health care easier so that life is better.”

Building and effective UACC community advisory board

In addition to assisting with several different organizations throughout her community, Spotleson volunteered to serve on the UACC community advisory board when it was formed four years ago.

“I wanted to serve on a board that is focused on research that is going to allow more patients to survive, just like me,” she said. “There are quite a few of us that have been on since the CAB started. It's easy to build synergy working together because you're all passionate about the same things.”

Spotleson said that during their annual board meeting, the community advisory board reviews potential nominees to join the CAB. Some of the things they look for is representation from the populations in the catchment area. 

“We also look for diverse individuals and people that are passionate about serving those communities and cancer as a whole,” she said.

She said that an important responsibility of the community advisory board is to focus on community education.

“CAB members need to be out in the community educating these populations on not only getting screened, but also cancer prevention, how to eat healthy, how to get access to fresh food, how to exercise and other healthy lifestyle pursuits.”