When I was a student at the University of Iowa, my best friend’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was a single mom who worked hard to provide for her son’s college education.
To support his mom, my friend Corey started a fundraising campaign and quickly recruited me to join, with wristbands students could purchase that provided free or discounted entry to events. The campaign quickly picked up traction and took a different spin in November when we started “Beards for Boobies” – a play on “No Shave November.”
Sadly, Corey’s mom passed away in November 2012, just a few months after the initial diagnosis. Rather than end the campaign, we declared the month “November to Remember” and continued to sell the wristbands, along with T-shirts. After three years, we raised around $17,000, which we donated to the University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center.
What started out as a simple fundraiser turned out to be a pivotal moment in my life. The passing of my friend’s mother pushed me down a path of philanthropy and advocacy, a path that Corey and I still walk today. In fact, we’re working to create a college scholarship for underrepresented “everyday heroes.”
Breast cancer also runs in my family. My mother is an Ashkenazi Jewish woman with the BRCA gene mutation. This mutation raises a person’s risk of getting breast cancer and other cancers at a young age. In fact, I have a 50% chance of inheriting the BRCA genes, so I make sure to get screened for cancer regularly and strongly encourage everyone I know to get tested as well.
As a black woman, regular screenings are especially important.
According to the CDC:
- Black women and white women get breast cancer at similar rates, but more black women die from it than white women.
- Breast cancer is likely to be found at an earlier stage in white women vs. black women; this is partly due to the lack of accessibility to proper healthcare insurance in some geographies and demographics of black women.
- More black women are diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, which is an extremely aggressive type that often returns after treatment.
No matter what your age, ethnicity or gender, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to be screened regularly for breast cancer. (Yes, men can get breast cancer too.) Sure, it can be hard to face the fear of the unknown. But in this case, I believe that the fear of what you know is better than the fear of the unknown, because it puts the power in your hands.
Spreading the Word in the Workplace and Beyond
I also believe that we need to think about breast cancer as “our” issue. Just because it hasn’t touched you doesn’t meant that it won’t – directly or indirectly. It benefits all of us to collaborate and support one another. The workplace – and industry events like Tech Day of Pink – can be an important pipeline for sharing our stories of breast cancer and raising awareness.
Why am I so passionate about breast cancer screenings? Because I don’t have the audacity to believe that you will get another chance. Because nothing is guaranteed. And because I refuse to be option-less should unfortunate news strike. That’s why I take action now – and encourage others to, as well – while I still have options.
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