When breast cancer becomes a family affair

Jean had been planning the trip of a lifetime for more than a year.

Ever since her husband had passed away, she and her three daughters had been daydreaming about their vacation in Hawaii. They wanted a chance to create new memories and to solidify their family bond. They planned for months, and in the midst of all the excitement, Jean was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I was the first person in my family to have breast cancer, and it was devastating,” said Jean. “I found out from having a mammogram, and from there it was really fast. I had surgery and then I went through chemo for about 8 months.”

Not wanting to let her girls down, Jean decided to go ahead with the trip. She hadn’t even finished treatment yet.

“I never saw her get sick,” said Jean’s daughter Tina. “She would never tell me. I would say, ‘How are you feeling?’ and she’d say, ‘A little tired.'”

After completing her treatment and getting a clean bill of health, Jean felt like breast cancer was out of her life for good. But 5 years later, on the anniversary of her last treatment, her daughter Tina got the same fateful call.

“That was even worse for me,” Jean said. “When something happens to your kids, you’re going to blame yourself. That is just being a mother.”

Since both Jean and Tina knew exactly what breast cancer was like, since their family had felt so deeply its impact, Tina admits that she was afraid it might be genetic.

She put off testing for a while, afraid that if it was genetic she’d have to admit it wasn’t over. Her sister, who was concerned for all the women in their family, eventually convinced her to get it done.

“It took me awhile to get the results because they test something like 16,000 different points in your blood,” said Tina. “Finally my doctor called and she said it was all negative. There is an 85% chance that I will not have a reoccurrence and 75% chance that no other female in my family will get it. I didn’t think that I was that worried about it, but after she told me everything was negative I was really relieved. I could tell all the girls it isn’t going to be our fault.”

Getting a clean bill of health made Tina realize just how important it is to find a cure. She decided to take the positive outlook she depended on through her treatment and put it toward throwing a benefit to raise money for breast cancer research.

Using her sense of humor and enlisting the help of the women in her life, Tina set out to get donations and plan a silent auction.

“I was scared to death,” she said. “Basically, I learned how to beg!”

Friends and Families for a Cure has become an annual event, and Tina makes sure that the benefit celebrates all the survivors it benefits.

“We have a DVD that shows survivors pictures playing during the event, and we have a memory board shaped like a ribbon for people who didn’t make it through,” she said. “I can’t believe that there isn’t someone out there who hasn’t been touched by breast cancer. Either they know someone, or they’re related to somebody. I think if you put a name and a face with it, it makes it a lot more real for people.”

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