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A Survivor's Legacy

Gordon Gee with an arm around Betty Puskar at a football game.

Written By Wendy Holdren
Photographs Provided

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During the most stressful times of her battle with breast cancer, Betty J. Puskar focused on the future — not only on her survival, but her goal to one day build a breast cancer center in West Virginia.

After finding a lump, the then 45-year-old was met with a grim diagnosis: one to three years to live. She had the resources to travel to Houston, Texas, for treatment, but she knew other West Virginians with breast cancer weren’t as fortunate.

 

She refused to accept defeat, both for herself and all the other West Virginia survivors. In a 2015 interview with The Cumberland Times-News, she said, “The way that I coped with everything — I built the cancer center in my mind. When I felt down and depressed, I would add another room.”

 

Less than a decade after her diagnosis, she contributed the initial donation in 1994 to establish the Betty Puskar Breast Care Center. Part of the West Virginia University Cancer Institute, the Center boasts “patient-centered care, close to home.” The Center provides individualized, state-of-the-art diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer. The oncology team works together to provide the most cutting-edge cancer treatment and management services.

 

The Center also boasts the ability for patients to see breast surgeons and oncologists, genetic counselors, social workers and clinical trial specialists without having to make multiple appointments, allowing the entire cancer-treatment process to begin sooner and patients to get on the road to recovery faster.

 

The Betty Puskar Breast Care Center doesn’t just work to diagnose and treat patients. It’s also dedicated to reducing the number of diagnoses throughout West Virginia by educating women about prevention and early detection — an important mission when roughly one in every eight women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.

 

“Betty showed all of us the power of grace, love, caring and service to others in promoting healing,” Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president and executive dean for WVU Health Sciences said. “She helped countless numbers of patients and inspired everyone in the power of selfless service to others.”

 

Although Puskar was born in a rural area outside Covington, Virginia, she was often referred to as the “First Lady of Morgantown.” She completed Covington Business College and soon after met Mike Puskar. The couple was married and had a daughter, Johanna. Betty tirelessly supported her former husband’s efforts to create an independent drug company, which ultimately gave rise to the generic pharmaceutical industry.

 

Betty Puskar served on the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center Board of Advisors and was a charter member of the Foundation’s Woodburn Circle Society. She founded the Betty Puskar Futures LPGA Golf Tournament (which benefited the Center) that was held for 17 years at the Pines Country Club.

 

Betty Puskar surpassed her survival expectations by more than three decades. She passed away June 14, 2020, at the age of 80, at her home in Morgantown. She will be remembered for her kindness, compassion, empathy for others, selflessness and fierce advocacy for those with breast cancer.

 

“West Virginia University has lost a great friend in Betty Puskar, but her legacy will live on in the lives she has helped save or prolong through her advocacy and support of women’s health,” WVU President E. Gordon Gee said at the time of her passing. “The Betty Puskar Breast Care Center is but one result of her philanthropy and commitment to the betterment of our community. West Virginia University and West Virginia will always be grateful for her lively and generous spirit.”