Carol Sawdye: “The most powerful woman I know”

This is a blog post from Carol Sawdye, Vice Chairman and Chief Financial Officer for Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP, regarding this weekend’s Informed and Strong Summit

summit-homeEvery October for the last couple of years, I’ve been traveling to Washington, D.C. to attend the Fortune Most Powerful Women (MPW) Summit.  Thanks to the vision of Fortune senior editor at large (and fellow University of Virginia alum) Pattie Sellers, the event has evolved from an informal gathering of interesting women to the hottest ticket of the year, a must-go event if you are female and a leader in politics, business or the arts. This year’s guests included IBM chief Ginni Rometty, General Motors CEO Mary Barra, Xerox Chairman and CEO Ursula Burns and First Lady Michelle Obama, to drop just a few names. Impressed? Me too. You can’t help but come away from MPW inspired and ready to change the world.

There’s another impressive gathering of women this month, about 300 miles up the road from MPW, in New Haven, Connecticut.  Mary Ann Wasil is assembling a few hundred of her closest friends at the 2015 Informed and Strong Summit, two days focused on female empowerment. You see, Mary Ann isn’t just ready to change the world, she’s doing it, one person at a time. I mean that literally.  She has dedicated her life to running the Get in Touch Foundation, an organization that works with school nurses to educate girls in grades five through 12 around the globe how to perform breast self-exams.

What inspired Mary Ann?  Eleven years ago, at the age of 39, the mother of three young children, Mary Ann was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer and had a bilateral mastectomy.  She found the lump herself.  Instead of getting angry or depressed, she got going – in a way that only Mary Ann can.  It’s not an exaggeration to say thousands of people love Mary Ann. She mobilized her army and picks up more soldiers in the fight against breast cancer every single day, including me. My friend, Donna Orender, former president of the Women’s National Basketball Association and founder of Gen W, introduced us.  We immediately clicked and not just because we’re both cancer survivors.  Every day, Mary Ann shows the world how big her brave is.  She has chutzpah – a quality I’ve talked about here and take risks to advance her cause, which I’ve written about here.

Three years ago, Mary Ann had a relapse.  She has had more chemotherapies and surgeries than any one human being should have to endure.  But her memoir, “A Diary of Healing: My Intense and Meaningful Life with Cancer” is filled with joy.  She consciously decides every day to make lemonade because she doesn’t want her two daughters and one son, now young adults, to remember only her pain.

Lest cancer define Mary Ann, let me tell you a few other facts about her life.  She’s beautiful – see for yourself here.  And she’s multi-talented.  She’s been a cop, a soap opera actress – on All My Children for ten years – spokesperson for Aetna and with her foundation, a non-profit entrepreneur.  It’s hard to say no to Mary Ann.  She goes after what she wants.

At PwC, we’re very focused on our purpose, which we define as building trust in society and solving important problems.  Often, our people ask us for examples of purpose, both inside and outside the firm, because purpose can be an abstract concept.  People want to know what it looks like.

Purpose looks like Mary Ann. She has devoted herself to a singular cause with focus and light. And what she wants, now, is for every girl on the planet to take charge of her own health.  In these waning days of October, in this month of Breast Cancer Awareness and Most Powerful Women, Mary Ann Wasil is the most powerful woman I know.