In 2007, I was devastated when I was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time. My oncologist scheduled me to see a genetic counselor and shortly after I tested positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation. While I was attending the Living Beyond Breast Cancer Conference (LBBC), I met a FORCE volunteer, Eileen Kastura. She introduced me to FORCE. When I returned home, I immediately went to the FORCE website and found a wealth of information on hereditary cancers. It was my BRCA2 genetic mutation discovery that made me shift gears to explore my interest to learn more about hereditary cancers and disseminate information about it (along with the importance of genetic counseling) to my community, which is predominantly African American.
In 2010, as a recipient of a FORCE scholarship, I was able to attend my first FORCE conference and was excited to meet my new FORCE family. To show my appreciation I volunteered to stuff conference bags and assist with registration. It felt incredible to give back to an organization that I believed in and supported me.
Since then, FORCE has provided the platform for me to share vital information with my community. I’m involved with the Peer Navigation Program (PNP) as a Peer Navigator, volunteering in the hereditary cancer community. I am also involved with the FORCE Research Advocate Training (FRAT) Program and the ABOUT Network Steering Committee. The more I got involved with the various FORCE committees, I realized that many African Americans were unaware of genetic testing and that my local health care team wasn’t educating patients about it. I didn’t see any information about FORCE in any of my medical team reception areas, nor was it discussed with me.
As a Peer Navigator, I was matched with an individual who was newly-introduced to FORCE by a family member who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. As we talked, she asked to hear my breast cancer journey. I told her about FORCE conferences and the upcoming one that was scheduled in San Diego. During a breakout session at that conference, I was pleasantly surprised when she walked up to me to say hello and reminded me of our peer navigation call. This was such an awesome feeling and so rewarding to know how important volunteering is and how it can have a huge impact on peoples' lives.