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  • “Parenthood” and the Breast Cancer Storyline

    Guest blog post from Susan Brown, Managing Director, Community Health of Susan G. Komen for the Cure

    Breast cancer has become a main storyline of NBC’s  “Parenthood.” In the last few episodes, viewers have seen Monica Potter’s character, Kristina Braverman, receive a breast cancer diagnosis and deal with some of the initial emotions and decisions that so many women battling breast cancer have to face.

    In the most recent episode that aired last Tuesday night, Kristina handled the incredibly difficult task of telling the news to her family. The scene hits close to home for many of us who have spoken or heard the words, “I have cancer.”

    Parenthood - Monica Potter - Breast Cancer

    Since receiving her breast cancer diagnosis, Kristina struggles with things that many other women like her must handle, such as finding the right doctor, deciding on different surgery options and dealing with family members who are trying to help, but may come across as judgmental or over-bearing.

    We applaud NBC for  portraying the difficult realities of a breast cancer diagnosis. In addition to raising awareness of the importance of screenings and early detection, the show illustrates the importance of having a strong support system.

    We want women to understand that they are not alone in the fight against breast cancer and that there are others going through similar experiences. We also want to help.  We have resources and information – and a community of breast cancer survivors who willingly share their stories.  If you are looking for help in your community, please find your local Komen Affiliate for resources close to home.

    We are honored to share stories of compassion, determination, triumph, despair and optimism through the eyes of breast cancer survivors, the people who love them and the people helping them every day. We encourage you to check out their stories.

  • 31 Days of Impact – Day 16, Dr. Sheri Phillips

    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. Sheri Phillips, Chicago – Physician, Survivor

    “My lymphedema had affected my ability to safely care for my patients and my boss at the time called me into his office and said, “A physician who is not clinically capable is of no value to me.” My heart sank.”

    “Now as a “patient-physician” I’m a stronger advocate for better health awareness and the need for a cure.”

    “In 2010, I participated in the Susan G. Komen Chicago 3-Day for the Cure. At the end of the event, I knew I’d found my calling. I was meant to help change lives on a national scale.”

    Ever since I was two years old, I’ve wanted to be a physician. So I studied hard for years and worked my way through school to become a physician and have been for 18 years. I’ve always exercised and kept my body in shape. I’ve always eaten right for the most part. I have no family history of cancer. Nobody has had any major medical issues as far as I know. And still…I’m a 3-year breast cancer survivor.

    Surviving breast cancer is a difficult, life-changing event – for anyone. I underwent a partial mastectomy, a lymph node dissection, 15 rounds of chemotherapy and 33 rounds of radiation. I now have clinically disabling lymphedema (persistent swelling) of my right arm and hand and can no longer perform hands-on treatment of my patients. But the most difficult part of surviving breast cancer was losing my mom while I was undergoing chemotherapy. Weeks before my mom died I was also diagnosed with a congenital heart defect that was potentially life threatening but not surgically correctable. Coming so close to death caused me to see that although I had spent my life helping thousands of patients and their families in this country and abroad, I merely existed. Helping people became “what I did.”

    I began searching for the higher purpose in my life. My lymphedema had affected my ability to safely care for my patients and my boss at the time called me into his office and said, “A physician who is not clinically capable is of no value to me.” My heart sank. My life’s dream seemed to be coming to an end at 42 and after 18 years of service, I was told I had no value.

    So I decided to make a difference, not just in my life, but in the lives of others. By helping them through their struggle and showing them their own value, I would find mine again. For years, I was seen as the invincible physician. Now as a patient-physician I’m a stronger advocate for better health awareness and the need for a cure. My diagnoses and treatment have taken away one of my greatest fulfillments in life which was the hands-on care of my patients. But after careful re-consideration of what I still have rather than what I’ve lost, I have a brand new focus and mission in life. I have decided to stop existing and instead have chosen to LIVE!—To Love myself and others; to Inspire those around me; to Voice my dreams and ambitions; and to Enjoy life!

    In 2010, I participated in the Susan G. Komen Chicago 3-Day for the Cure. At the end of the event, I knew I’d found my calling. I was meant to help change lives on a national scale. I could share my story, share my voice, share my life, and share my victory with thousands of others that needed help. I am now honored to represent the Susan G. Komen 3-Day as the National Spokesperson. This role affords me the opportunity to raise awareness and educate thousands of women and men throughout the country about breast health and how they can join in the fight to end breast cancer.

    From being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, disabled from lymphedema in 2010, to raising my voice as a national spokesperson in the fight against breast cancer in 2011…now that’s living! I’m blessed to have my own healthcare consulting business in addition to sharing my story, my life, my voice and my victory as a motivational speaker and voice-over artist. I’m grateful that my remarkable story of pain, loss and change has inspired tens of thousands of people across the country. I want to continue to inspire others not only by my words, but by living them every day. You can’t make progress if you never take risks. Never stop dreaming. Step out and find out!

    Read other impact stories.


  • 31 Days of Impact – Day 15, John Cena

    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.

    JOHN CENA, TAMPA, FLORIDA – Breast Cancer Advocate & WWE Superstar

    “I realized first-hand the importance of early detection when it saved my youngest brother’s life.”

    “There are more than five million women who watch me on WWE programming each week – now is my chance to give back to them.”

    I realized, first-hand, the importance of early detection when it saved my youngest brother’s life. Last November, my brother Sean was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor – he is doing extremely well now, but only because the tumor was caught in time. It was the wakeup call I needed to support a cause I care about.

    On the surface, a partnership between the WWE and Susan G. Komen for the Cure may seem odd, but for me it makes perfect sense. My “Rise above Cancer” initiative was my way of reaching out to fans and supporting a cause that directly affects them. Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer, as well as the second-leading cause of cancer-related death among women in the U.S., and there are more than 5 million women who watch me on WWE programming each week. Similar to the brain cancer my brother was diagnosed with, breast cancer can be a deadly opponent when not treated early. If raising awareness about the importance of early-detection could save more lives, there is nothing that matters more to me.

    Each week my fans support me, and now I have a chance to give back to them and support a cause that strikes a chord with all of us. I connected with Ronni Cohen-Boyar, the executive director of Komen’s Massachusetts Affiliate, and a 2-time breast cancer survivor herself. I remember she told me that while they are wrestling with cancer, and fighting for a cure, I could do something special for my fans by establishing this partnership.

    This year, I unveiled my Susan G. Komen for the Cure pink and black ring gear for the first time at the TD Garden during the “Night of Champions” pay-per-view event, and will continue to proudly display my special-edition gear throughout the month of October to support Susan G. Komen’s mission to eradicate breast cancer.  WWE has also used its global reach to promote Susan G. Komen and Breast Cancer Awareness month through all of its assets including on-air, in-venue and through its extensive digital platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Tout.  The entire WWE organization has gotten behind this partnership with everything from the addition of a pink ring rope and a joint WWE/Susan G. Komen for the Cure logo on our entrance ramp, to the production of PSAs played during our broadcasts and recognizing breast cancer survivors in attendance at our live events.

    I always felt that my willingness and drive to support my fans stemmed from the way I was raised. As the second-oldest of five boys, the concept of loyalty was ingrained in all of us at a young age. I learned the importance of teamwork and giving back, and that’s truly been a contributing factor to who I am today.

    You can write checks, and that’s always well-appreciated, but you can also donate a very valuable asset, and that’s time. Giving someone your time speaks volumes and giving back in that way is something that will never stop for me.

    Read other impact stories.

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  • 31 Days of Impact – Day 14, Dr. Sarah Gehlert

    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.

    SARAH GEHLERT, MD,  ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI – E. Desmond Lee Professor of Racial and Ethnic Diversity at the Brown School of Social Work, Washington University

    “Our mission is to identify and reach out to women who never went to treatment, women who began treatment but for some reason did not complete it, and women who finished treatment, to ensure they continue to receive follow-up care and support.”

    “Although African American women are less likely than white women to get breast cancer, they are 37% more likely to die from it.”

    “To reduce these disparities, we can’t just develop better chemotherapy. We have to go into the community and make a measureable impact.”

    When I began my career as a professor of racial and ethnic diversity, I was stunned and embarrassed by the health disparity that existed for low-income women, particularly in the United States. I was convinced that the inequalities could not be completely attributed to the women’s resistance to receiving care – we needed to take a look at our health care providers and ensure that they themselves knew how to educate women to navigate this complicated system and obtain the right resources.

    My research is particularly interested in understanding the influences of neighborhood and community violence and unsafe housing on psychosocial functioning among African American women newly diagnosed with breast cancer, with an eye toward how these factors “get under the skin” to affect gene expression and tumorigenesis. Our findings have shown the impact social influences can have on health, especially the health of vulnerable populations.

    Although nationwide, white women are more likely to get breast cancer, black women are about 37% more likely to die of the disease – in St. Louis that number is closer to 60%.  My research allows me to translate transdisciplinary science into practical ideas that can be used to formulate a solid plan of action to end health disparities in this community and in the country as a whole. I admire organizations such as Susan G. Komen for the Cure, because they turn these practical ideas into reality and instigate actual change.

    In 2011, my team at Siteman’s Program for the Elimination of Cancer Disparities (PECaD) and I set out to understand why low-income women in north St. Louis aren’t getting the treatment they need – and then do something about it. The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Vulnerable Community Project Grant made this all possible – it allowed us to collaborate with four of PECaD’s partners, including a hospital, a federally qualified health center and two local organizations to use a community-based participatory research approach to improve breast cancer services among women in the region.

    With our funding secured, our project was underway and we were able to present our findings at town hall meetings with open microphones for community feedback, and then with our partners, try to turn our findings into improvements in the system, so that we could reduce the excess deaths among black women in St. Louis. Our tactics include one-on-one interviews with breast cancer patients to try to understand the barriers women encounter and help the institutions adapt their practices to better serve them.

    Our mission is to identify and reach out to women who never went to treatment, women who began treatment but for some reason did not complete it, and women who finished treatment, to ensure they continue to receive follow-up care and support.  To reduce these disparities that are so apparent in our nation, we can’t just develop better chemotherapy. We have to go into the community and make a measureable impact.

    Read other impact stories.

  • 31 Days of Impact – Day 13, Cindy Colangelo

    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.

    31 Days of Impact – Day 13, Cindy Colangelo

    “Do not look at statistics. You are not a statistic.”

    “Knowing that there is a chance that something might work and you might be able to contribute for the future, you do it.”

    “Always have hope. Action means that we’ve got to be our own advocates.”

    In 2001, I was the VP of Business Development for a busy real estate firm. I worked long hours, cared for my family and was an avid volunteer in my community. I was living life to the fullest and even participated in a Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in the mid-80’s without realizing what a personal cause it would soon become. Little did I know that eventually I would be one of approximately 155,000 Americans who currently live with metastatic breast cancer.  It all began when during what should have been a routine mammogram, doctors discovered that I had developed DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ). Luckily, this is a common, non-invasive breast cancer and I was even able to continue working through a lumpectomy and radiation therapy. I was a breast cancer survivor and proud that I had been able to cross that hurdle and move on with my life. Eight years later, the nightmare began again.

    Once again, a routine mammogram revealed a lump, this time in my other breast. A biopsy confirmed that it was cancer, and the tumor was HER-2 positive. I was assured that since the cancer was caught early enough, the prognosis was promising. Not wanting to take any more chances however, I opted for a double mastectomy. After undergoing another round of surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, I was told by my doctor, “Have a great life!” I had every intention of doing so.

    Not even a year after I had completed breast reconstruction surgeries, on New Year’s Eve, I found another lump. The thought that it could be cancer again never crossed my mind, yet when I saw my doctor’s face, I knew something was very wrong. I was horrified to learn that the cancer had returned and that it had now metastasized to my clavicle and lungs. I had mistakenly convinced myself that lightening never strikes twice (or in my case three times) so I wasn’t prepared to fully grasp the gravity of my situation. I was in a state of denial and insisted on a second opinion.

    The oncologist I met with was straightforward and told me, “Your treatment options are not good. This is not a sprint. This is going to be a marathon.” It was only then that the seriousness of my prognosis fully sunk in. Despite the shock I felt, I was determined to fight. I immediately signed up to participate in three clinical trials, including one for traztuzumab (TDM-1), an experimental drug thought to delay the progress of HER-2 positive breast cancer. When asked if I was scared about trying new drugs, all I could think was that even if there was a chance that something might work, that I might be able to contribute for the future, I had no choice but to do it. With the help of funding from organizations such as Susan G. Komen for the Cure, women like me have the option of participating in groundbreaking research to find a true cure.

    More than ten years later, I am still going strong and providing support to other women who are going through similar experiences. When I hear that people have been living with metastatic disease for five, ten, or twenty years, I feel uplifted at how far we have come. I strongly believe that we should all be our own advocates. You need to look at all of your options, you need to be open and aware, and you need to educate yourself. Advocacy to me means offering people hope through my work at the Komen Dallas Affiliate Speaker’s Bureau and by participating in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day. The best advice I ever received was to remember not to look at statistics. I am not a statistic – I will always have hope and continue to fight.

    Read other impact stories.