Joe Lehn claims all he did was love his wife, Gina, but because of the way Joe loved Gina he was selected to receive the 2011 National Komen Co-Survivor Award. Joe was flown to Dallas the first weekend of March to attend the National Leadership Conference. On Saturday, March 3rd, on Joe's first birthday since he lost Gina, he received the award for the amazing way he supported Gina during her battle with breast cancer and the way he continues her battle after she's gone.
Below is the nomination letter written by the Komen Greater Cincinnati Affiliate:
Gina Lehn's battle with breast cancer began before she met her husband, Joe. Joe Lehn's battle with the disease continues even after suffering the devastating loss of his beautiful wife.
As friends tell the story, when Gina Brakus met Joe Lehn, she warned him that she had already battled breast cancer once. Her first diagnosis of breast cancer was in 2004. Following her doctor's orders, she went to have her first mammogram. She had no family history and no reason to suspect she may have the disease. The results of the test shocked her -- she had breast cancer. She had three lumpectomies that summer and was told the cancer was Stage Zero.
When she met Joe, she had no reason to believe the cancer would ever return. Still, she warned him about the possibility. They fell in love and got married. Gina continued to have regular mammograms. In 2008, a mammogram revealed the cancer had returned. She had a mastectomy. The surgeon removed three lymph nodes and they were clear. Gina and Joe celebrated and decided to get involved with the Greater Cincinnati Komen Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. They needed a way to feel like they were fighting back.
The couple made yearly appearances in a bridal show that features breast cancer survivors and their families. Joe, in a tux, would always have a pink bandana on his head. Gina would wear her signature pink wig. Their kiss on the runway was always a huge hit, the image a lasting reminder to the audience that this horrible disease strikes anyone, even a couple so full of life and love. Their efforts helped to raise thousands of dollars for the Greater Cincinnati Affiliate.
The Lehns also became a fixture at the Greater Cincinnati Race for the Cure. They were volunteers we knew we could always count on, even for the heavy lifting and hard work. They helped pack truck beds full of cases of water and would help distribute them as people crossed the finish line. Joe's smile and pink bandana greeted finishers as did Gina's cheers, especially for fellow survivors.
In the spring of 2011, Gina started to feel nauseous. It was breast cancer, this time Stage 4. A couple of months later, despite the chemotherapy that physically drained her, Joe helped her down the runway in a wedding dress. Again they kissed, a sign to everybody watching of both courage and hope in the face of this horrible disease. The celebrated when the bridal show raised a record amount of money.
Gina hated the chemo and the side effects she experienced were difficult to manage. Joe urged her to keep fighting. When she had no strength left, she relied on his strength. Joe would stop by our office with updates, always looking for ways he could continue to help.
On Saturday, September 24th, 2011, Gina and Joe were again at the finish line of the Greater Cincinnati Race for the Cure. This time Gina cheered from the sidelines as Joe took over all of the heavy lifting. He hugged finishers and cheered. Gina commented on how the sea of pink filled her with hope.
Joe decided he needed to do more. As a Springdale firefighter, he would share with the other guys at the firehouse how much volunteering for Komen Greater Cincinnati helped both him and Gina feel like they were helping others like her. Together, the firefighters decided they would wear pink the entire month of October. They designed t-shirts and wore them proudly. If anybody questioned whether real men wear pink, they needed only to look to this group of dedicated warriors in the battle against breast cancer. The department held their annual Open House, a highlight for the community. While the event is usually used to spread the message of fire prevention, this year, firefighters had another message -- a reminder of the importance of getting a mammogram. It was a message that was very important to Gina and Joe. Again, they proudly wore their pink shirts, distributed information from Komen and took up a donation for our Affiliate. Joe was incredibly proud of their accomplishment. They spread a life-saving message and raised money that would help save lives.
A few weeks later, Gina took a turn for the worse and was put in hospice. Joe was by her side, as he had always been, every minute. We're told that during her final days, Gina again reminded Joe that she had warned him about the breast cancer. Joe responded that he would not change a thing. Gina died on November 15th, 2011 with Joe by her bedside. Joe asked that all donations in her memory be made to the Komen Greater Cincinnati Affiliate.
A couple of weeks after Joe lost Gina he was back in our office again. He wanted to check on the donations, but more importantly, he wanted us to know we could expect him at the bridal show and the 2012 Race for the Cure. He asked that we call him if he could help in any other way. And he was excited about his department's plans for the following October as they talked about ways they could reach more people and raise more money.
Joe Lehn was by Gina's side every step of her battle with breast cancer. And after she was gone, he continues her battle. His resolve to fight back and commitment to Komen are even stronger. We are honored to have his help and to fight alongside him in memory of his beautiful wife, Gina.