Flash Mob Performance Honors Sylvester Breast Cancer Patients and Physicians

It was a hot and muggy Saturday at Sun Life Stadium, and thousands of Miami Hurricanes fans had arrived hours early to meet friends for the traditional pre-game tailgate parties. The “Pink Game” match-up with the Virginia Tech Hokies — named for the special displays and activities in honor of Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center — promised to be a good one as long as the rain held off.

In the UHealth Fan Zone, tables and tents offered information about breast cancer and other health topics, as well as face painting, temporary tattoos, photo booths, beanbag toss games and assorted fun activities. Families wandered through, and their children played in the open area, tossing small footballs and chasing each other.

But at 2:30, things began to change as the Fan Zone quickly filled up. You could almost feel the wind shift, as if something was about to happen.

At 2:45, it did.

A large crowd of people that had been milling about in the Fan Zone began forming into groups, and somehow they were suddenly all wearing bright pink t-shirts bearing the logo of the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. A hum came over the speakers from the powerful sound system, followed by the familiar opening bars of the famed 1978 disco hit “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor, and the first group began to dance.

The fans and families in the area were momentarily confused by the energetic choreography coming from the sea of pink. Then they broke into smiles as they realized what was happening — they were being flash mobbed!

They quickly enlarged the circle around the dancers, as other fans from farther away were attracted by the music. Soon dozens of cell phones were held aloft as people in the crowd began to take photos and videos of the performance. With them in the audience, all smiles, were Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., Director of Sylvester, and UM President Julio Frenk, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D.

As the medley of hip hop and disco hits continued, the dancers acquired more pink accoutrements — pink gloves, pink berets, pink pompoms, even a few pink tutus.

The 130 dancers — Sylvester and UHealth staffers, bolstered by friends and family — were joined by more than a dozen Sylvester doctors and nurses wearing pink lab coats that said, “My research at Sylvester fights your cancer,” and by nearly 20 women — current and former breast cancer patients who wore white sashes that said, “Cancer Fighter.” Four of them joined the dancers.

When the music ended, and the energetic routines came to a halt, the dancers tossed their pink berets into the air in a moment of joyous celebration. The cheers and applause that rose from the spectators could be heard halfway around the stadium.

The whole production was organized by Sylvester and UHealth marketing and communications team members, who had spent weeks planning every detail. Working with Miami choreographer Jay Marcos, whose mother had died of breast cancer, they enlisted dancers and rehearsed the routines in secrecy. They hired event photographers, who placed nine hidden still and video cameras to catch the performance from every angle. They gave a last-minute alert to the news media, who showed up knowing they would be covering something special. ESPN ran it twice. Social media generated thousands of impressions and messages.

But this wasn’t just for fun. It was to honor the brave women who fight breast cancer every day as patients of Sylvester and the breast cancer specialists at Sylvester who work tirelessly to save their lives. The emotional outpouring from these two groups following the event was overwhelming.

“I’ve been doing hip hop for five years for exercise,” said Diana Fleeman, who was one of the patients who also danced in the flash mob. “I even did it during my treatment, because it gave me energy. My Sylvester doctors — all four of them — were with me every step of the way. They have my complete trust. I let them do the worrying, and I do the healing.”

Rabbi Rachel Greengrass also endorsed dancing as a healing exercise. “It was hard to get back to my responsibilities, and dancing is what did it for me,” she said. “But I’m here today to help promote breast cancer awareness and to help salute those who didn’t make it.”

Ann Berardino, a three-and-a-half-year survivor, had done the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure earlier in the day with her husband, Nick. “I’m very excited to be here,” she said. “It’s nice to be honored and be able to give back.”

These were simple statements of gratitude from women who were glad to be survivors. The most common statement they made was that they never felt alone during their treatment, that their Sylvester team was with them the whole way. The cancer specialists at the event all said that was part of their commitment to their patients.

“Treating my patients is what gets me up out of bed in the morning; it’s why I come to work,” said Joyce Slingerland, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the Braman Family Breast Cancer Institute at Sylvester. “The flash mob made me feel happy. There’s something in the exuberance of dancing that speaks to the joy of life. I am privileged to be a part of that, because we’re all fighting breast cancer together.”

“Until we no longer lose one life, we won’t be finished with our work,” said Carmen Calfa, M.D., whose entire department recently moved to Sylvester from another institution. “I have stage 4 patients who are literally counting days. We owe them everything.”

“I have been taking care of women with breast cancer for more than 15 years,” said Alejandra Perez, M.D., Medical Director of Sylvester’s Broward Breast Oncology Group. “They have been and continue to be my greatest source of knowledge and strength. I have learned so much from all of them — lessons of courage, hope, beauty and resilience, to name a few. Events like this recharge my batteries to continue the fight against breast cancer. Going to those events is very important to me, as I want my patients to know that I support them 100 percent, and I will be with them at every step of their journey.”

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