My routine visit with a gynecologist in the spring of 2013 turned out to be anything but routine.
I had just moved back to New York from North Carolina (where my husband Johnny was stationed on active duty with the US Marine Corps) and was meeting with my new gynecologist, Dr. Nabil Khoury. After reviewing my personal and family history, Dr. Khoury thought it might be a good idea for me to be tested for the BRCA 1 and/or BRCA 2 gene mutation based on the amount of cancer (not just breast cancer) on my mother’s side of the family. Since both of my mother’s parents had cancer, she was tested first (although it took some convincing) and learned that she was BRCA1 positive. From that moment on, things changed in a big way.
Not long afterward, I also tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation and my husband and I were thrown into a whirlwind of thoughts, fears, and decisions. I was told that I had up to an 87% chance of developing breast cancer and up to a 54% chance of developing ovarian cancer—odds that were too high for me to be comfortable. We had no children, but the idea of waiting just riddled my brain with worry. What if I got sick and couldn’t care for them? I was told that a preventative mastectomy would reduce my chance of developing breast cancer by over 90%. At that moment, I knew it was a no-brainer. After meeting with a breast and plastic surgeons, I scheduled a preventative double mastectomy on December 19th, 2013—the day after I finished my college final exams. I wasn’t prepared to live with this fear anymore, especially if I could drastically reduce my risk. I wanted to be there for my husband and family, and I wanted to look forward to being a mom.
The journey through testing and making decisions regarding surgery is one fraught with anxiety and the need for support—but I wasn’t sure where to turn. After doing some research and speaking with my genetic counselor, I learned about a wonderful organization called Bright Pink.
Bright Pink is a national non-profit organization focused on saving women’s lives from breast and ovarian cancer by empowering them to live proactively at a young age. They offer education programs for women and their doctors and also have a tremendous support community for young women at high risk for developing these diseases. One of the programs I took advantage of is PinkPal®, a one-on-one peer support program. I was introduced to Charlotte, who gave me an incredible amount of support and helped me see that there is life and happiness after a mastectomy.
After recovering from my double mastectomy, I was determined to help other women who may find themselves mired in uncertainty and fear. I volunteered to become a PinkPal in the hopes of providing the same valuable support that Charlotte had provided to me. After a few months, I realized that I wanted to become even more involved so, this past spring, I applied for Bright Pink University, the training program for Bright Pink Ambassadors. Once I was accepted, I spent a weekend in Chicago meeting amazingly inspirational women and learning to teach how to identify signs of breast and ovarian cancer as well as understand risk factors and risk reduction strategies.
Since graduating from Bright Pink University as an Ambassador, I have had the pleasure of sharing the Brighten Up Educational Workshop with over 300 individuals. This work has been extremely rewarding, especially since many of the workshop participants were not even aware of their own risk profiles and never even considered speaking with their doctors until hearing the presentation. Among a wealth of information, the Bright Pink website offers a risk assessment tool which can be completed online and, after completion, can be printed in pdf form and shared with a doctor.
I will always be grateful to my PinkPal Charlotte, and I believe that my work as a Bright Pink Ambassador serves to empower women by providing them with valuable knowledge and raising their awareness with respect to breast and ovarian cancer. With the help of Bright Pink’s educational programs, women can learn how to adopt healthy habits to minimize risk, catch these diseases in the early stages, understand their risk profiles, and undergo preventative treatments and/or surgery.
I have been working at BFFL Co for over two years, and am very proud to be part of an organization that helps women. Since learning of my BRCA status and undergoing a mastectomy, I have been able to connect with our customers on a more personal level. For the most part, I know what these women are going through and can offer them comfort, guidance and reassurance. I’m thrilled to be able to contribute to BFFL Co’s mission of improving the patient experience, and know that my work as a Bright Pink Ambassador will allow me to pass on the strength and hope this organization has given me –to make a positive difference in women’s lives.
Caitlin Lopez has been working as a Marketing/Administrative Assistant at BFFL Co since 2013. She is currently training with her husband Johnny for the Brooklyn Half Marathon on May 16th, and will be running to raise money for Bright Pink.