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  • 31 Days of Impact – Day 10, Etta-Cheri Washington

    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.

    ETTA-CHERI WASHINGTON, WASHINGTON, D.C. – Patient Navigator, Pink Diva

    “I have made it our mission to start a ripple effect among the women of Ward 8”

    “I’ve realized the impact empowering one woman can have on an entire community”

    “With your support, we can save lives, Diva to Diva!”

    As a Washington, D.C. native, I have always been directly aware of the high rate of breast cancer afflicting the district’s women – nearly 10% higher than the national average.  There is a need to reach out to these women as they often do not receive the same access to care available to others. In 2009, I began my journey as a Patient Navigator at Capital City Area Health Education Center (AHEC) and set out to save the lives of women in our nation’s capital by connecting them to medical and educational resources. I hoped from the beginning that my work would change lives but as it turns out, my very first patient, Ms. Valerie Holtz, changed mine.  Valerie’s moving story and determination to battle her cancer with the best care possible truly opened my eyes to the value of patient education and empowerment.

    Like many other women living in Wards 7 & 8 in the District of Columbia, Valerie had little to no access to health care, faced discrimination and a tremendous lack of resources. Over the months while I navigated Valerie through the continuum of care – educating her on the health care system, finding a medical home and culturally competent care – I realized the impact empowering one woman can have on an entire community. Inspired by Valerie, and with the aid of a $200,000 grant from Susan G. Komen for the Cure, our team of navigators at Capital City AHEC took our initiative to the next level and created the DC Pink Divas.

    The DC Pink Divas Program provides hope to women who feel they have no one to turn to for answers and support. It began as a program that encouraged women to educate their friends and family about breast cancer detection, and empowered those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer – now with the help of the Susan G. Komen grant, we have expanded our City-Wide Patient Navigation Network to reach out to more than 3,000 women in one of the most underserved communities in the country. The DC Pink Divas and I have made it our mission to start a ripple effect among the women of Ward 8 by empowering sisters to recognize their needs, educating them so they can take action and plan breast cancer prevention activities, and impacting them enough so they venture out on their own and share their knowledge with others.

    Each year our team of Divas participates in the Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure in order to continue raising the funds (of which 75% supports local breast cancer education, screening and treatment programs throughout the National Capital Area) necessary to expand our network and touch more lives. I am dedicated to continuing this tradition of bringing together people from all walks of life so that together, we can save lives, Diva to Diva!

    Read other impact stories here.

  • 31 Days of Impact – Day 9, Gabrielle Union

    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.

    GABRIELLE UNION, LOS ANGELES – Co-survivor, Breast Cancer Advocate

    “Fear can literally kill you. It killed Kristen. Knowing is better than not knowing. Don’t let fear sway you from getting screened.”

    “Prevention is key. Early screening and treatment saves lives, and at Susan G. Komen, we are doing everything we can to take that message worldwide.”

    “Access to proper health care is vital to the fight against breast cancer. We need to continue to do everything we can to ensure that every woman, no matter where they live, has the opportunity to obtain the treatments they need to save their life.”

    Seven years ago, at the age of 32, my best friend, Kristen Martinez, was diagnosed with stage IV metastasized breast cancer. She fought this disease for 5 years, but she lost her battle and passed away 2 years ago.

    After her diagnosis and before succumbing to this scourge, Kristen became a vocal and passionate patient advocate for the millions of other women out there who, just like her, are underinsured.

    Kristen serves as my inspiration day-in and day-out to advocate the importance of screening and early-detection and expand awareness about breast cancer, particularly among young women and women of color. There are just so many women out there who do not have the funds or are too fearful about what they may learn that they do not get screened.

    Early detection leads to early treatment, which saves lives. Due to the research and treatments that are funded from organization like Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer, when caught early before it spreads beyond the breast, is now 99% (compared to 74% in 1982).

    Women in their 40s who are diagnosed early have a 15% lower chance of dying from breast cancer. These numbers are even more disturbing for women of color, who are less likely to develop breast cancer, despite a 39% higher mortality rate than white women.

    Among African American women, breast cancer is the most common cancer and is the second leading cause of cancer deaths. We do not yet know why this is the case, but in the past 4 years Komen has invested $2.3 million to support projects that are seeking to understand these issues and create solutions at the community level.

    Earlier this year, I took part in Komen’s Global Race of the Cure to raise money and awareness for the vital programs that Komen supports.  We all must do everything we can to ensure that women, just like my friend Kristen, are able to get the treatments they so desperately need.

    Read other impact stories here.

  • 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.