Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Army of Women Needs You!

I want you! 

You’d have to be living under a rock not to know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  You might not know, though, that this past Thursday, October 13, was Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day.  In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t know it either until I saw it on the Facebook page of the Army of Women.   According to its website, the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation's Love/Avon Army of Women has two key goals:
  • To recruit one million healthy women of every age and ethnicity, including breast cancer survivors and women at high-risk for the disease, to partner with breast cancer researchers and directly participate in the research that will eradicate breast cancer once and for all.
  • To challenge the scientific community to expand its current focus to include breast cancer prevention research conducted on healthy women.
In an effort to build a strong voice among researchers and those affected by breast cancer, the Army of Women has launched the The “It Takes an Army” Project, a collection of videos and stories of being touched by breast cancer from its cadre of volunteers. Specifically, the Project asks participants to reflect on these two “distinct moments of realization: When was the moment you knew breast cancer had changed your life? And when was the moment you knew your life could change breast cancer?”

Here’s my submission…

May 9, 2010 was Mother's Day.  As I filled the vase with water from the sink in my mother's hospital room for the flowers we'd brought for her, I knew--I mean I really knew--it was the last Mother's Day we'd spend together.  Her oncologist wanted us to believe otherwise, but what he said didn't synch with the lightning-speed decline we'd been watching everyday for the last five weeks.  My mom had triple negative metastatic breast cancer and 10 days later, she was in hospice.  On May 30, she died, changing my life forever.

November 2, 2010 was Election Day.  A friend accompanied me to my appointment to meet with the Chief of the Clinical Genetics Service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and one of the genetic counselors on his staff.  Several weeks earlier, my sister and I had tested for the BRCA gene mutations and, although she had tested negative, I had learned that I'm positive (as we surmise my mother was) for a BRCA2 mutation that significantly increases my lifetime risk of both breast and ovarian cancer.  As much as I already knew my options, I needed to hear them—I mean really hear them—from people who knew what they were talking about.  At the end of the appointment, at the counselor’s request, I signed paperwork and gave blood to participate in one of many long-term studies underway at Sloan-Kettering.  (I’ve since signed on to several others.)  If there’s even a remote possibility that my mutated genes can provide a teeny-tiny clue to doctors seeking a cure for breast cancer, I say, “go for it!” I am proud and honored to play a role in this work.

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Although I’m off the hook for a mammogram (I had a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy in July), if you’re a woman over 40 and haven’t had one in the last 12 months, run, do not walk, to the phone to make an appointment.  It could save your life.