UM first lady Felicia Knaul embraces campus

Knaul via Twitter

At Wednesday’s Hug the Lake event, Felicia Knaul embraced Lake Osceola and campus traditions alongside students, her husband, UM President-elect, Dr. Julio Frenk and President Donna E. Shalala.

Knaul is expected to join the faculty at the Miller School of Medicine. She will give a talk on Mexican reform, global cancer and global health at 3:30 p.m. tomorrow at the medical school. After that, she says, she will share where she will work.

“The idea is that I’m up for faculty review at the medical school and I believe I’ll be contributing to the Center for Hemispheric Policy here in the main campus,” Knaul said.

Knaul’s work with cancer includes a more personal backstory. About four years ago, she wrote a book titled “Tomatelo a Pecho” or “Beauty Without the Breast,” which focused on her experiences as a mother with cancer. She says the inspiration for her book came when she realized that this was an unforeseen threat for women in Mexico and that she saw a need for a book in Spanish that discussed personal experience with this disease.

She also noted that including Dr. Frenk and the family’s experience with her illness in her book was a way to help combat the fear of abandonment that some women face when seeking treatment. She says she wanted to show that a woman can make it through the disease and continue with her life.

“I thought that our story, particularly Julio’s story, would help to break down and fight against some of those taboos,” she said.

When faced with the challenge of coming up with an English title for her book, she says it was her daughter, Mariana, 10, who gave her the inspiration. The title “Tomatelo a Pecho” is a Spanish idiom and has no real translation in English, Knaul says.

The couple has two daughters, Hannah, 18 and Mariana. As a working mother, she notes that it can be difficult to juggle her work and home life but thinks it’s important for women and men to have a life where they are able to balance different roles.

“Societies, however, can do a lot to make that easier,” she said. “We need to promote education that has gender-equity built right into it.”

Knaul also mentioned that she is looking forward to bringing her family and two dogs, Tikvot and Lupi, on campus and to keeping a close connection to the UM community.

“I enjoy being able to speak to people,” she said. “A couple times I’ve gone down to the Starbucks and talked to people who are getting their coffee, which I like doing very much and hearing from the students and knowing a little bit more what they need.”