In 2008, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, following a biopsy conducted after suspicious mammogram results. My breast surgeon gave me a list of doctors to interview to build my treatment team, a video to watch, and a flyer with the URL for the FORCE website. After I recovered from the initial shock and dismay, I was ready to learn about my disease—and to determine the best course of action to fight and win my cancer battle. My involvement with FORCE began that week.
My oncologist recommended genetic testing to determine if I have an inherited mutation that could be attributed to my diagnosis – I was “young”. There was no history of breast cancer in my family, although my mother had been diagnosed with fallopian cancer 9 months prior to my diagnosis. When I received the news that I am a BRCA2 mutation carrier, I considered myself “lucky” —I felt that my treatment decisions became clearer once I knew about my elevated risk of breast and ovarian cancer. FORCE became even more valuable at this point; I pored over evidence-based research most relevant for people affected by hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC) like me and moved forward with the knowledge that I was making the best choices given the information at hand.
I am a marketing professional with expertise in communications program development for consumers who are typically overlooked or underserved. I have many years of experience designing and analyzing qualitative and quantitative consumer research to uncover behavioral and attitudinal insights and meaningful ways to change behaviors and beliefs, designing innovative programs to create consumer engagement and loyalty. While I have developed many successful marketing programs that have improved people’s lives, trying to navigate successfully on my personal breast cancer journey made me realize that helping empower and enable people to take charge of their health and become successful navigators with better outcomes could be a very meaningful mission for me.
In 2012, I relocated to Sioux Falls, SD, to be the VP of Marketing for a start-up breast cancer research foundation pioneering a bold new approach to end breast cancer. Sanford Health had created a Translational Genomic Research Network, comprised of on-site research and sequencing capabilities, collaborations with best-in-class genomics and bioinformatics institutes, a biobank and a patient base that could participate in and research investigators to lead pre-clinical and clinical trials aimed at expediting discoveries and improving standards of care. Moving to Sioux Falls gave me the opportunity to work directly with skilled professionals in all parts of breast cancer research and treatment, and to see precision medicine processes, research and discoveries firsthand.
Returning home to North Carolina in 2014, I immersed myself in additional learning and involvement with several key components of precision medicine and patient-powered research. I also dedicated myself to becoming a patient-powered health and research advocate, taking the FRAT training program, and volunteering to participate in different areas of translational research, digital health and patient engagement initiatives.
My focus is on clinical research, as it is such a critical element of getting new treatments to patients that can improve outcomes meaningfully. It is also an area where qualified patient advocates can really improve the process if we are given the opportunity and budget to use our patient community expertise to improve research design and implementation. I am especially interested in helping accelerate the development and promise of novel approaches to address breast cancer risk assessment and reduction, early detection, treatment, and survivorship.
In my engagements on behalf of FORCE, primarily serving as a research advocate or a peer navigator, I am always proud to be a FORCE ambassador and appreciate all FORCE does for me and other people with hereditary cancer mutations.