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FORCE, for me, means more than finding answers for my journey. It is about the OUR in Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered. I knew when I stepped into my first meeting that helping to empower others was something I was passionate about.
In August of 2008 at 43 years of age, I was diagnosed with stage III, triple negative breast cancer (TNBC). I had no history of cancer in my family that I knew of and was always the “healthy” sibling. I exercised, ate well (no fast food), didn’t smoke, drank some wine socially and maintained a true healthy lifestyle. Due to my age I qualified for genetic testing and was surprised, but also relieved, that I carried a BRCA1 mutation. My three siblings (2 sisters and 1 brother) were tested and were also found to be carriers. Yep, this clan was 4 for 4. My father always said he was “Strong like Bull” and his DNA sure was as we found out that our mutation was passed down from my paternal side.
I wanted to share with people that even though you never really know when or if you will be diagnosed with cancer, knowledge is empowering. It was an honor for me to take on testing, giving my siblings and their offspring the knowledge to be on top of their risks felt like an honor to me. If I could spare just one of them from being diagnosed I knew the OUR in our family would be well worth it.
In August of 2009 I was diagnosed with Stage IV disease metastatic breast cancer (MBC), a short 8 months after finishing chemo, 7 months after a bilateral mastectomy, 4 months after radiation and a mere 2 months after my oophorectomy, the prognosis was not bright. I dug my heals in, did 13 months of chemo, was bald 3 times, worked part time and started my journey of being a voice for knowledge on BRCA, TNBC and MBC.
Volunteering as a FORCE Outreach Leader, Peer Navigator and Research Advocate, I hope to bring education, spirit and an optimistic outlook to all I reach. I believe that OUR story is never fully written without including everyone we can touch with knowledge.
This is OUR story not just MY story. FORCE is a family and a family I am proud to be part of.
At 26 years old, I watched my mother suffer after a 10 year battle with breast cancer and pass away at the age of 52. The fear of my own cancer diagnosis was so profound that it ruled my life. Losing my mom’s sister/my aunt to ovarian cancer catapulted me to undergo genetic testing in which I was diagnosed with the BRCA2 mutation. Since then 4 of my 5 siblings and 2 of my 3 children tested positive as well.
My BRCA diagnosis has changed my life in a way that I never dreamed possible. It led me to attend my first FORCE meeting where I bonded with 2 women who have made such an impact on my life. The group leader ended up becoming FORCE’s Board of Directors’ President and my boss. She pointed me into a career path I never dreamed possible. The other amazing woman was Eileen. She is a warrior, a breath of fresh air and an inspiration to all who are lucky to know her.
I have had a prophylactic double mastectomy, a hysterectomy before my diagnosis, implant reconstruction, 3D nipple tattooing with the infamous Vinnie Meyers and a couple years ago removed my implants in exchange for DIEP procedure, which was performed out of state. I am screened yearly by my breast surgeon, gastroenterologist and dermatologist.
FORCE has empowered me to conquer my dreaded fear of a cancer diagnosis, to share my story loud and clear, to support others who are just starting their journey, to be a role model to my family, friends and new acquaintances through FORCE.
FORCE not only saved my life, but enhanced it and I am forever grateful for the opportunity to give back to FORCE’s community.