When a Statistic Becomes Your Reality
Sometimes you don’t really understand the weight of a statistic until it touches your life. One in eight women in the United States is diagnosed with breast cancer—and in Orange County alone, every day one woman dies from the disease. For me, those statistics became a reality was when that one woman was my mom. At the age of 36, my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. How could that be? She was so young. Her breast cancer ultimately metastasized to her liver and after four long years of fighting, she lost her battle. I was only seven years old and the youngest of my two brothers had just started kindergarten. What we didn’t know then was that my mom had the BRCA gene mutation, which increased her likelihood of developing breast cancer to 70% over her lifetime.
My dad was my mom’s primary caregiver and was left with three children and medical debt that amounted to what it would have cost to put all of us through college. After struggling with severe depression and addiction for the next five years, we ultimately lost my dad to liver failure due to alcoholism. Not only did breast cancer take my mom, but it took her caregiver with it and left me at 12 years old with a new life’s purpose: to work toward a day where we never lose another mom to breast cancer again.
When thinking about my career and the type of work I wanted to do, I knew I needed to fight breast cancer, and I knew I wanted to work for Susan G. Komen. I wanted to be a part of the leading breast cancer organization because I knew if anyone had a shot at ending this unacceptable disease, it’d be Komen. The combination of science, education, and direct help to those facing breast cancer from Komen programs has helped lead to a 40% decline in mortality from 1989-2016 nationwide. The progress that has been made in treatments, access to care, and education over the past 28 years is remarkable.
We’ve come a long way, but breast cancer still isn’t finished. In 1998, 90% of metastatic breast cancer patients died within 2 to 3 years of diagnosis. Today, about 25% of stage 4 breast cancer patients live past 5 years.
A few years ago, my Aunt Cindy, who is my mom’s sister and the angel that took me and my brothers in, found out that she has one of the breast cancer gene mutations, which we now know runs in our family. I recently learned that I inherited this breast cancer gene mutation as well. I am a previvor. I have a predisposition to cancer, but haven’t been diagnosed. This is a hard reality to face, but I’m not asking you to worry about me. I have a strong support system, insurance and access to quality healthcare.
It’s the woman who doesn’t know that she’s a carrier of the BRCA gene mutation that I ask you to consider. The one woman in your life that could make all the breast cancer statistics a shocking reality. Your wife, your mom, your daughter, your best friend… or yourself. Be an advocate for these women, stand up for access to quality screening and healthcare. Spread knowledge and encourage women to get regular mammograms starting at age 40, or earlier if recommended by their doctor. And support them through the next steps – whatever they may be. Men and women need to be active voices in their own breast health and have advocates like you encouraging them to get tested and learn about their family history and risk.
I’m here to tell you that you have the power to help save a life. For those of us with the BRCA gene mutation, it becomes even more vital that we become advocates for ourselves.
It’s because of supporters like you that we are able to care for, advocate and support breast cancer survivors and those living with the disease on a daily basis.
If you, or a loved one, have ever wanted to learn more about inherited genes and breast cancer risk, we encourage you to talk to your doctor about genetic testing. If you’re not sure where to start, you can download this Q&A to help initiate this very important conversation.