DID YOU KNOW that 11,000 American women under the age of 40 will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year and over 1,400 of them will die? It may not be juicy gossip, but it is a devastating statistic that affects the lives of mothers, grandmothers, sisters, daughters, friends, wives and everyone whose lives they touch. At the age of 31, I was faced with a stage 4 diagnosis as breast cancer touched my life during a time when I thought I was on top of the world. I quickly came to terms with the fact that I was not untouchable.
Before my cancer diagnosis, I was a young woman who seemingly had everything; a great career, good friends, a supportive family and a wonderful life in NYC; but I was dying inside and had no idea that my severe back pain and chronic fatigue were not only clear symptoms of cancer but were signs that it had already spread to my bones. With a new promotion, new apartment, dating and school, I was just too busy to get to the doctor; even though I knew something was terribly wrong. I ignored all of the signs until they were large enough to be billboards before I decided to take action. I will regret that decision for the rest of my life.
Living with metastatic disease has been a journey filled with triumphant joy and desperate sadness as I had a full response to an aggressive treatment regimen in 2006 and was officially “NED” (no evidence of disease) until July 2007 when a new tumor popped up in my spine. In July of this year, I went back into treatment for more bone and liver mets. Having just completed radiation to the spine for the second time, I’m awaiting acceptance into a clinical trial at Sloan Kettering for a “parp inhibitor” drug that has shown promise in the BRCA population. In addition, I’ve recently adopted a healthier lifestyle where I’ve removed all toxins from my home environment with reduced stress, vegan diet, daily exercise that includes yoga, weight training, long bike rides and hikes in the country with my dog and boyfriend.
I consider myself to be an intelligent young woman, yet I simply had no idea that cancer was more aggressive in younger women and I knew that I was not alone in my ignorance. More young women are dying every year due to late or miss-diagnosis during a time when celebrity gossip rules the headlines. How could this be?
Although a lot of progress has been made in breast cancer treatments, we have a long journey ahead if we intend to find a cure. There must be a way to treat this disease without profoundly compromising the quality of life of the young women it effects as we are a population experiencing unique issues such as loss of fertility, loss of libido, premature menopause and negative body image. We can and must do better.
It was this pivotal moment in my life when I found the woman I was always meant to become as I have emerged from this battle a true warrior, environmentalist, loving girlfriend, dog owner, sister, daughter and dedicated advocate compelled to give back by devoting her life to educate young women and their families on risk factors, prevention, support services, complementary and conventional treatment options for breast cancer.
I am currently starting a foundation that will fill a critical gap for young women living with breast cancer. I firmly believe that the environment plays a key role in breast cancer, so I am partnering with young architects, interior designers, environmentalists, retail companies and professional organizers to provide a service that will clean, organize, detoxify and update the design of living spaces for young breast cancer survivors before, during and after treatment. Our mission is to create an environment of sacred space and tranquility so that women may heal more effectively in their home surroundings. We will use sustainable design and green products with an emphasis on beauty and serenity for healing.
I’m a proud member of Komen, Young Survival Coalition (YSC), San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS), National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), Metastatic Breast Cancer Network (MBCN), National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC), You Can Thrive Foundation (YCT), Avon, and Share. The following information outlines my advocacy work with each of these organizations.
In July 2008, I had the honor of participating in the Lifetime Pink Ribbon Shoot with famous author Geralyn Lucas leading a round table discussion on the trial and tribulations of life with a breast cancer diagnosis. In July 2008, I became a featured model for Chikara clothing line in partnership with “Fashion for the Cure” which aired on the Komen special on CBS on 9/6.
I became a graduate of the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s Project Lead, an advocacy-training course in the science of breast cancer, in August 2007. In October 2007 I joined the Share Lead Graduates that meets monthly to discuss the latest information on breast cancer research, statistics, and treatments options. I also participate as a peer volunteer for young women with metastatic disease on the Share Hotline.
Since 2007, I have traveled to Capitol Hill with NBCC to urge congress to enact the “Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Act”.
In April 2008, I traveled to Albany with the New York State Breast Cancer Network to lobby for important legislation that was recently signed into law. The “Green Procurement Initiative”; is a bill that promotes policies within state agencies that reduce consumption of materials and energy; minimizing potential impacts on public health and environment. As a result, state agencies will purchase environmentally friendly commodities, services and technology.
In February 2008, I became a volunteer for “You Can Thrive”, a non-profit organization that offers free health and wellness services for breast cancer survivors. As a result of my work with the organization, I have become the Director for Patient Outreach; helping many women navigate through their treatment options. I have been attending the Young Survival Coalition’s Annual Conference for Young Women Affected by Breast Cancer every year since February 2006.
I am an active YSC member and joined their “In Living Pink” planning committee in August 2006; the YSC’s Annual Fundraiser. I have helped to raise over $450,000 for the organization through my involvement with ILP for the past two years. I recruited Gabrielle Union, a famous actress and dear friend since high school, to support the organization and become the celebrity hostess for ILP for both 2006 and 2007. In collaboration with Stacy Morgenstern from “Boy Meets Girl” I helped develop the official ILP tote to be sold at Urban Outfitters stores nationwide and online which raised over $13,000 for the YSC.
I attended the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in December 2007 and had the unique opportunity to gain first hand knowledge of the latest and greatest advances in breast cancer treatments and research. I had the honor of being invited to the NCCN luncheon to speak on behalf of young survivors in an ongoing effort to create treatment guidelines for young women with breast cancer.
I attended the Metastatic Breast Cancer Conferences in 2007 and 2008 and where I learned vital information about the latest treatment advances for metastatic breast cancer.
Together, with 11 teammates, I raised 100,000 in the Avon Walk for New York in April 2007. I am the Latina face in the Avon “Hello Tomorrow” campaign to raise awareness for early detection. My PSA (public service announcement) was in print in over 70 publications such as Latina, Health and Martha Stewart magazines.
I have participated in 7 television interviews this past year with BET, ABC News Now and HD News to educate the public on young women and breast cancer.
I hosted a casino night called “Gambling Towards a Cure” in April 2006 in Los Angeles, CA to raise funds and resources for young women with Metastatic disease.
Since my diagnosis, I have been to Italy twice, traveled all over the country for breast cancer advocacy, bought a beautiful home in the country, fell in love with my amazing boyfriend and beautiful dog Koko, started a new job with the same company, rekindled old friendships and have strengthened existing ones and I have joined an amazing sisterhood of beautiful, strong, courageous and powerful women. TOGETHER, WE FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT…