I was in third grade when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember the tears our friends and family shed as she shared her diagnosis. I remember her guiding my hand, much smaller than hers then, to feel the lump in her breast so I could know what it felt like to help protect me in the future. Even when I know she felt weak and worse, to me, she always seemed so strong. And as a single mother and now a breast cancer survivor, strength doesn’t even begin to cover it.
One memory in particular stands out, but it took me years to understand why. After she was done with her first round of chemo and starting to regain some color and energy, she told me it was coffee that had made her sick. I’m sure she included coffee in a long list of other possible risk factors, but I clung to coffee, smelling it percolating on the stove even as she condemned it. What I realize now, though, is that, at least in part, my mother believed getting cancer was her fault. That she should have been able to prevent it, that even her health-conscious lifestyle had been insufficient. And worse, that by having breast cancer, she had let me down.
Now, nearly fifteen years later, my mom remains cancer-free and healthy. But I’m still mad. Not at her, whose strength will always make me proud, but at the monolith of cancer information that made her believe she had the power to do something to keep herself from getting cancer. I’m mad at a multi-billion dollar industry that told my mother and women like her that a mammogram could protect her from cancer. I’m mad at Myriad Genetics, the company that charged her so much to test for BRCA 1 and 2. In a way, my mom was right; her choices weren’t enough, because individual women cannot—and should not be blamed– for their own breast cancer diagnosis. While we can take measures to reduce our risk of getting breast cancer, our personal choices alone can’t guarantee we won’t get cancer.
That’s why Breast Cancer Action’s work is so important to me. This organization stands up for real women living with and at risk of breast cancer and works for systemic changes that will alter the course of the breast cancer epidemic. I know they’re working for me, for my mom, and for future generations. That’s what inspired me to move across the country and support BCAction by working as an unpaid intern. The more time I’ve spent here, the more inspired I’ve become.
I’ve seen how needed BCAction’s work for systemic change is, because the status quo of breast cancer is not OK. So I decided to step up my support of BCAction. Breast Cancer Action does not take money from any business that profits from or contributes to cancer so they depend on support from individual supporters. Though I have no fortune of my own to donate, I have friends. And they have friends. And together, I know we can help by raising funds to help end this epidemic. I did this by starting my own fundraising page for Breast Cancer Action in honor of my mom. You can check it out by clicking here.
Please consider honoring someone you love by starting your own fundraising page this holiday season. It’s easy – register here to create your own page and then email out the link to your friends. Setting up your page is simpler than starting a Facebook account, and I’m happy to support you with any questions you may have. This is my story. And as I learned so wisely from my mom, our personal choices alone will not prevent us from getting cancer. Fundraising for BCAction is one way that helps me turn my passion and anger into meaningful action. I know that the money raised will be used wisely to make system-wide changes that will protect everyone’s health.
Join me in ending this epidemic.