Monday, October 22nd, 2012
In October we’re all inundated with breast cancer stories. And each one hits us in a different way, especially if you have any experience with the disease. And really, isn’t that all of us at this point?
A colleague told me about her friend, Meredith Israel Thomas, and her story is as heartbreaking as it gets. But if you’re a mom of a young child, like Meredith is and like I am and like most of you are, it’s almost physically painful to read what she and her husband Gary are going through. (That’s Meredith and Gary with their daughter; the photo was taken at a wedding just last month.)
Meredith found a lump in her breast when she was 25. It was found to be benign. Then the lump grew, so she had a lumpectomy. Nearly 10 years later, she felt a large mass under her armpit – and at age 36 was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer that had spread to, among other places, her liver, lymph nodes, spine, and ribs. By this time she had a 20-month old daughter, Niomi.
Meredith has been through three years of treatments, but as she posted last week on her CaringBridge blog, her life is coming to an end. Her liver is failing; her doctor believes she’s down to her final few weeks. She’s been blogging regularly for as long as she can and it’s all in an attempt to help her 5-year-old daughter someday understand what happened, to know her mother better, and to see for herself just how hard her mom fought in order to have a life with her family for as long as she possibly could.
The message Meredith wants to get out to all of you is how crucial early detection is. “The doctors missed my cancer,” she wrote. “By the time they paid attention it was too late. I’m pissed off about them missing it. I am SO ANGRY about the amount of young women I am meeting everyday who are being diagnosed earlier and earlier with this horrible disease. Breast cancer awareness is amazing, but it doesn’t focus on early detection or the young women who are fighting this disease.”
One of our country’s most prominent breast cancer researchers, Susan Love, M.D., agrees that awareness isn’t enough. That’s why the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation has recently launched its Health of Women (HOW) study. The goal is to learn how breast cancer starts and how to prevent it. The online study is open to all women, anywhere in the world, and with or without breast cancer. If you’re looking for a way to help the breast cancer cause, consider this. It costs nothing but your time and has the potential to prevent our children from ever being in the position Meredith’s daughter is in right now.
Meredith, on behalf of moms everywhere, thank you for sharing your experience. Your message is coming through loud and clear. And it is going to make a difference.
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Monday, August 8th, 2011
Unfortunately I’ve had breast cancer on my mind in a big way this summer. My mom is an 11-year survivor, having been diagnosed at age 47, which is why my gynecologist has been gently pushing me for the past two years to get tested for the breast cancer (BRCA) gene. But then it became clear that it’s really my mother who should be tested for the gene; if she had it, then my three sisters and I definitely would also get the test. For whatever reason, we were all–minus my doctor–taken aback when my mother’s results came back positive. She has the BRCA2 gene (there is also a BRCA1 gene).
You may ask what a lot of people have asked: But what does that mean? It means that her chances of a breast cancer recurrence go up dramatically, as does her risk of developing ovarian cancer. It means that decisions need to be made about how to help prevent a diagnosis, whether through vigilant screening or surgery to remove the risky body parts. It means each of her four daughters have a 50 percent chance of also having the gene.
So we’ve all started the testing process. I don’t have the gene. Neither does my younger sister. Another sister is waiting until the fall to get tested. But my other sister just learned that she does have the gene, and even though she lives in California and we only see each other a few times each year, we happened to have been together when she got the call. I won’t get into details about what that was like, but to say it was painful is an understatement. And now my sister, who is 32 and hasn’t yet had children, is faced with all kinds of big questions about what she should do with this information.
Meanwhile, a childhood friend was diagnosed with breast cancer last month. A mother of three, she will have a double mastectomy this week–she has since learned that she, too, is a carrier of the BRCA gene–and then begin 16 weeks of chemo. And we still have the results of my third sister’s test to get through… not to mention those of my mom’s sister and brothers (yes, men need to be tested too, as their risk of both breast and prostate cancer jumps if they have the gene).
Then there’s the matter of my job. I’m a health editor for a magazine for women and we’re currently producing our October issue. In other words, there’s no shortage of breast cancer-related information swirling around. I think back to a conversation I had earlier this summer with Susan Love, M.D., the president and medical director of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation. It was an honor to speak with her; Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book was what everyone in my family consulted when my mom was diagnosed. Hearing her say things like, “We can be the generation that stops breast cancer” was not just inspiring–it was reassuring, coming from someone with her knowledge.
Dr. Love has a mission to discover the cause of breast cancer. And to that end, she’s joined with the Avon Foundation for Women to create an Army of Women. The goal is to recruit 1 million women–those with a connection to breast cancer and those without–who will participate in research that will eventually eradicate the disease. To join the Army, you simply provide some basic information and then wait to be contacted about studies you can participate in. When you’re contacted, you either join the study or not–your call–and you’ll hopefully tell a friend about it so that she may consider joining. I’ve joined the Army and it just feels good to know I’m doing something about this disease that seems to hang over so many of us. If you, too, feel powerless in the face of breast cancer, maybe this is the cause for you. In addition to their web site, you can find the Army of Women on Facebook.
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Army of Women, Avon Foundation for Women, BRCA gene, breast cancer, Dr. Susan Love, Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, genetic testing | Categories:
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