Imagine A World Without Breast Cancer…
When I first heard those words in 2009, “You have breast cancer,” I was stunned, overwhelmed, and numb. My family had no history of cancer, so how could this happen? The uncertainty and deep anxiety caused by a cancer diagnosis can at times seem harder to bear than the treatment itself. You can never be the same after cancer, you have faced death and you realize it may still be lurking around the corner.
When treatment ended and I was deemed NED (No Evidence of Disease), my anxiety turned into an obsession to prevent recurrence. The haunting question was, if my cancer returned, could there ever be a true cure? In 2010, I learned of the work of Dr. Vincent K. Tuohy at the Lerner Research of the Cleveland Clinic. He had discovered a protein expressed by the most aggressive breast cancers, alpha-lactalbumin, that could be used as a target for a vaccine. The phone call I made to Dr. Tuohy’s lab would forever change my life. I could no longer dwell on my own disease. I now had a mission: to dedicate myself to supporting this research and help bring this vaccine to the clinic!
These past twelve years have been like riding a roller coaster ride without a seatbelt. I blogged, wrote hundreds of letters, created a website, and even lobbied Congress. At times it seemed impossible, but we knew that if proven effective, the impact on women’s health would be the miracle we so desperately needed! Finally, in 2017 a federal grant of six million dollars made the impossible, possible. The vaccine would finally be tested in humans.
My emotional attachment to this clinical trial is like the end of the long nine months a mother must wait before meeting her child. Twelve long, hard years have passed since I met Dr. Tuohy, but the amazing news is that finally the first patients are receiving the vaccine. As a survivor advocate on the vaccine trial team, I hope and pray that it will prove to be as effective as predicted. If it does, we will have found breast cancer’s Achilles Heel, and quite possibly the key to eradicating the disease forever.
My faith teaches me, “To Whom Much is Given, Much is Required.” I have watched so many incredible women fight desperately to remain on this earth, but sadly passed on. I am one of the lucky ones, and I cannot take it for granted. My website, www.Sisters4Prevention.com, podcast and Youtube channel are all dedicated to prevention and the latest updates about the breast cancer vaccine and Dr. Tuohy’s ovarian vaccine which is now being developed at NIH/NCI. There is still much to do, and philanthropic support is needed to get these vaccines fully tested and available to patients.
Now when I tuck my granddaughters in at night….I CAN imagine a world without breast cancer, and I thank God for the opportunity to have ridden this rollercoaster! It’s the greatest legacy I could ever imagine.