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  • 31 Days of Impact – Day 8, Cat Brennan

    The story of breast cancer is the story of people. Learn about Komen’s impact and work in the fight against breast cancer as told through the eyes of breast cancer survivors, researchers, community health workers and advocates. Read more stories.

    CAT BRENNAN, PITTSBURGH, PA – Breast Cancer Survivor, “Party in Pink” Zumba Fitness Instructor

    “My mission is to share our story, and educate women and men on the importance of listening to your body. You are your best advocate.”

    “I am constantly educating people and doing anything I can to assist in the fight against breast cancer. I was lucky, and I want to help others experience my good fortune.”

    “I want to continue to grow the ’Party in Pink’ movement by recruiting more Zumba enthusiasts who can share their respective stories and inspire others to groove for the cause.”

    It was 1998 when I began having severe breast pain. I went in for a mammogram, although the tissue was so dense they could not see anything. I was tested for the Breast Cancer BRCA gene mutation through blood work, but I was ruled negative.  Because no one in my family had been diagnosed with breast cancer to this point, I chose to live with the pain until I could decide my next move.

    The following year, my mother, Susanna Howard Antis, was diagnosed with stage IV acute Inflammatory Breast Cancer. My mom fought hard but unfortunately lost her battle in February 2000. She knew about my breast pain, and before she died I promised her I would go get checked again. With the history of breast cancer now in my family, doctors recommended that to relieve my pain and reduce my risk of cancer I undergo a mastectomy, which I eventually did.

    The next month, I went for my followup with the plastic surgeon, and it is a day I will never forget: My doctor told me that the biopsy revealed Stage 0 Atypical Hyperplasic cells in the ducts of my right breast (DCIS). I nearly went into to shock: CANCER? The mastectomies turned out to be the reason I got my life back—before I even knew it had the potential to be in jeopardy. I went through no cancer treatment and went into what is known as survivor guilt: Why did I get off so easy when others are tormented with radiation and chemo?

    I dealt with the news by not telling anyone, until I discovered Zumba Fitness in 2006. After only one Zumba class, I was hooked – it was the first exercise I could do after my mastectomies and reconstruction. I became licensed to teach in April 2007 and loved every minute of it. As a Zumba instructor, I began to see how much the classes touched lives and decided I needed to use the program to help others like it helped me.

    I called the Pittsburgh Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure and was able to organize a “Zumbathon” event in October 2008. Zumbathon events—Zumba classes for charity—are the foundation of Fitness’ “Party in Pink” movement that raises funds for Susan G. Komen and its global nonprofit partners by celebrating the joy of giving through dance, fitness, friendship and love.

    Despite only having a few weeks to pull it together, we had 85 participants and raised more than $1,600 in our first event! I then became involved with Zumba Fitness’ national efforts and have been organizing Zumbathon events ever since and have raised nearly $20,000 for Susan G. Komen for the Cure. This October’s Zumbathon event will mark my fifth year of hosting our “Celebration of Life” event—it’s amazing how this initiative has grown through the efforts of our Zumba family and Komen together.

    I am constantly educating people and doing anything I can to assist in the fight against breast cancer. I want to continue to grow the “Party in Pink” movement by recruiting more Zumba enthusiasts who can share their respective stories and inspire others to groove for the cause. Before she passed, I told my mother she would never be forgotten. I now am very aware that my mission is to share our story, and educate women and men on the importance of listening to your body. You are your best advocate.

    Read other impact stories here.

     

  • 31 Days of Impact – Day 7, Dr. Carlos Arteaga

    The story of breast cancer is the story of people. Learn about Komen’s impact and work in the fight against breast cancer as told through the eyes of breast cancer survivors, researchers, community health workers and advocates. Read more stories.

    CARLOS ARTEAGA M.D., NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE –  Director of the Breast Cancer Program at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center

    “What keeps us going is the realization that we are about to cure many types of breast cancer. “

    “My hope is that my work will continue to move the field of breast cancer research forward and lead to the next generation of “smart drugs.”

    “We must continue to expand on the incredible work we have already done and meet each new challenge head on until we find a cure – I am committed to working towards that goal.”

    I am often asked for my thoughts on the overall progress in the field of breast cancer research and how much of that can be attributed to basic research. While it is undeniable that the mortality rate of breast cancer continues to decrease, I firmly believe that that are multiple contributing factors. Our screening technologies have improved immensely, mammography is aiding in early detection even in underdeveloped worlds, and for those in advanced stages of diseases we have developed an increasing number of new therapies that are the products of molecular research. It is a combination of all these things, and patient awareness that is bringing us closer to finding a cure.

    A commitment to basic research and continuing to improve current technologies, however, remains the driving force behind our progress.  Organizations such as Susan G. Komen for the Cure have been an immense help in supporting our breast cancer research over the years. After serving as a member of the Komen Scholars (Komen’s 68-member panel of clinicians, researchers and advocates who advise Komen on promising science) for two years, I was then invited to join the Komen Scientific Advisory Board to assist with their research and further their education mission. The breast cancer research that I engage in is aimed at explaining the role of several key proteins, pathways and growth factor receptors in the pathogenesis of breast cancer.  My hope is that by characterizing these pathways, we can begin to identify the particular ones that are responsible for breast cancer cell growth, division and metastasis.

    The identification of these pathways will eventually lead to improvements in what remains the ultimate goal of my work: to promote new targeted clinical trials with patient enrollment based on pre-determined biomarkers. We have to establish a more sensitive screening process when selecting patients for our trials so that we can better predict who will benefit from the drugs.  Ten years ago we had limited treatment options and our tests were not very targeted. Now with the power of molecular technology we can select patients who are likely to directly benefit from the therapies while sparing those who won’t.

    It is vital we bring increased awareness to the developments that have been made within molecular research, and in 2011 I was given the opportunity to do so when honored with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction in basic science and clinical research. The award recognized my work in explaining the role of several key proteins and growth factor receptors in the pathogenesis of breast cancer. This translational research helped provide the rationale for many of our new targeted molecular therapies

    My hope is that my contributions will continue to move the field of breast cancer research forward and lead to the next generation of “smart drugs.” We must continue to expand on the incredible work we have already done and meet each new challenge head on until we find a cure – I am committed to working towards that goal.

    Read other impact stories here.

  • 31 Days of Impact – Day 6, Peggy Johnson

    The story of breast cancer is the story of people. Learn about Komen’s impact and work in the fight against breast cancer as told through the eyes of breast cancer survivors, researchers, community health workers and advocates. Read more stories.

    PEGGY JOHNSON, WICHITA, KANSAS – Breast Cancer Survivor, Advocate

    “If you’re going to dedicate your life to something, make sure it has meaning for others and not just yourself – and don’t do it if you can’t find joy in the process.”

    “This year, I received one of Komen’s top honors, the Suzy’s Angel Award, which honors people who have committed extraordinary time and energy for the breast cancer movement. It was an unbelievably proud moment for me, but it only means there is more work to do in the fight against breast cancer.”

    I’ve been an active health care advocate in Kansas for more than 20 years – volunteering my time to various women’s health issues and community events. During the late 1980’s I was actively involved with the Junior League of Wichita, including a term as the Shop Chair. The most rewarding opportunity, and one that would change my life, emerged the year the Project Development Committee sought to tackle an issue involving women’s health and decided to bring the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure to Wichita. At that time it was only the fourth race of its kind in the country and issues in women’s health were still very much considered private matters. Needless to say, the program flourished and is currently more than 116 cities strong.

    I eventually became Chairperson of the local Race in Wichita and when local Congressman Dan Glickman was present for one of the events, he was so impressed he contacted me personally and requested that I help him organize a women’s health conference. Eventually, I joined his staff and handled health care legislation and served as his Community liaison.

    My work led me, eventually, to Komen as part of their Board of Directors – and for three years I served as Chair of the National Board of Directors in the mid-1990’s. It was an incredible honor for a role that was usually given to someone in Komen’s home state of Texas, but ultimately it proved extremely rewarding as I realized how much of an impact I could have to help save lives.

    In January 2012, after serving as a Susan G. Komen advocate for 23 years, I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. While believing I was an effective breast cancer advocate for all those years, I now see the world through a different lens – and it has only strengthened my passion for Komen’s mission.

    My diagnosis has renewed my concern for the many underserved women without insurance who face a breast cancer diagnosis alone.  I continue my work with my local Komen Affiliate to provide uninsured women with services.  I also serve as a Komen Advocate in Science to further Komen’s promise to energize the sciences to find the cures.

    Having served as a Komen research reviewer, I probably know more about a “triple negative” diagnosis than most women and the magnitude of the diagnosis. But I believe all women need to be better educated about their breast cancer in order to be their own best advocate.

    Currently, I serve as Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of the Wichita Medical Research and Education Foundation.  This position allows me to be responsible not only for its day-to-day operations, but also to plan for future ventures into medical research and education in the Wichita and Kansas communities so I can make an impact for many future generations of women to come.

    Read other impact stories here.

  • Breast Cancer Research in the Americas: New Partnerships in Breast Cancer Control and Prevention in North, Central and South America

    Guest post from Catherine Oliveros, DrPH, MPH, Susan G. Komen for the Cure Regional Director, International

    Breast cancer is one of the leading cancers in the world, yet there is a scarcity of data on Latinos and breast cancer, as the majority of breast cancer research has been conducted in North America and Europe.  Expanding the pool of researchers, patients and programs to other countries, especially those less developed, is increasingly seen as the next critical step in the fight against breast cancer.  As such, Susan G. Komen for the Cure and partners like the National Cancer Institute (NCI) have made significant financial and programmatic commitments in Latin America to promote research, and outreach and education about breast cancer control and prevention.  As evidence-based institutions, our efforts also include consideration of breast cancer control and prevention interventions in the U.S. aimed at Latino populations for adaptation in Latin American settings.  These efforts have resulted in several new and dynamic research partnerships among a wide variety of public health stakeholders in these nations.

    The Latin American Symposia at the 12th International Congress of Behavioral Medicine (ICBM) held last month in Budapest, Hungary brought together partners with two things in common – a commitment to improving disparities among Latina women and Susan G. Komen.

    Dr. Amelie Ramirez, who chaired the symposia and was also featured as one of the amazing individuals in Komen’s “31 Days of Impact,” presented her work; a multi-site research study conducted among low income US Latinas to examine breast cancer “time to diagnosis” disparities.  As a result of similar disparities faced by women across the border Dr. Karla Unger highlighted, from a public health perspective, the benefits of using promotoras to increase access to breast cancer services among low –income women in Mexico.  Dr. Jorge Gomez of the NCI described the multi-national breast cancer genetics research and biospecimen repository development happening in Central and South America, and I was able to discuss other Komen supported research and public health projects as well as unique partnerships currently underway in the region.

    Wonderful things are happening and we are proud to share our efforts and mission every chance we get!  Last month it was Eastern Europe; next month it will be somewhere else.  We will continue to work together and make great strides towards ensuring that where a woman lives doesn’t determine whether she lives.

  • 31 Days of Impact – Day 5, Dr. Amelie Ramirez

    The story of breast cancer is the story of people. Learn about Komen’s impact and work in the fight against breast cancer as told through the eyes of breast cancer survivors, researchers, community health workers and advocates. Read more stories.

    DR. AMELIE RAMIREZ, SAN ANTONIO— Advocate, Scientific Advisor

    “My mission, which aligns with that of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, is to ensure that Latinos across the world receive timely, high quality cancer treatment, and go on to live long and fruitful lives.”

    “Now that cancer has overtaken heart disease as the leading cause of death for Latinos, we really need to step up our research and outreach efforts to fight cancer. Latinos are the largest U.S. minority group, so it is imperative to continue to inform Latinas and all women about what they need to do to maintain breast health and what services are available to them in their community.”

    “I hope that we will continue to decrease these disparities so that more survivors can live on to tell their stories.”

    As a Latina, I am disheartened by the health disparities in my community – especially when it comes to breast cancer. In fact, breast cancer is the number one cancer killer of Latinas. Latina women have a lower incidence of breast cancer than white women, but are more likely to be diagnosed with larger tumors and late-stage breast cancer. My mission, which aligns with that of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, is to ensure that Latinas across the world receive timely, high-quality cancer treatment, and go on to live long and fruitful lives. As a member of the Susan G. Komen Scientific Advisory Board, I am able to make significant contributions to advancing the field of breast cancer research while continuing to further this mission.

    Over the past 30 years, I have directed many research programs focused on human and organizational communication to reduce disparities – differences in cancer rates and survival among Latinas. This has been my focus at the Institute for Health Promotion Research (IHPR) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and as the associate director of cancer health disparities at the Cancer Therapy and Research Center. Much of this research has been supported by Susan G. Komen in the form of funds totaling $1.3 million ($950,000 in SAB grants and more than $350,000 in population-specific research program grants in 2000 and 2005), for which I am truly thankful.

    I’ve worked with some of the most passionate people, and together we have developed unique health communication models and interventions that have contributed to reducing Latina cancer death rates and increasing Latina screening, clinical trial participation and healthy lifestyles. We even spearheaded the use of bilingual, bicultural navigators – community health workers who help Latinas navigate the complex world of cancer care.

    I am certainly proud of these accomplishments but believe we need to continue to inform all women about what they need to do to take care of their breast health and to let them know the services that are available to them in their communities.

    Early detection is critical. Only 46.5 percent of Hispanic women age 40 or older are getting yearly mammograms.  This means that a woman who hasn’t been screened for breast cancer may not arrive for treatment until their cancers are at late stages, and treatment options are limited.

    I am most concerned about access to health care for uninsured and low-income women and this is an area of focus for Susan G. Komen as well. The need is critical in the Latina community: Latinos represent about 19% of the population in the U.S., but account for about 30 percent of the uninsured. Komen is funding programs to get low-income and uninsured women into screening and treatment: we must have doctors open their doors to the great need in this group.

    By continuing to educate the Latino community about prevention, timely screening, diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care, I hope that we will continue to decrease these disparities so that more survivors can live on to tell their stories.

    Read other impact stories here.