Why we should ALL be concerned about breast cancer

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Every 3-minutes in this country, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. Did you know that thousands of those women are under the age of 40?

Stephanie Warren Pendray, a mom (of twins!) who lives in Darien, was first diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 26. Yes, TWENTY-SIX. She had no family history, and didn’t test positive for the BRCA gene mutation commonly associated with breast cancer diagnoses. I’m not telling you her story to scare you, I’m sharing it to inspire you, and bring awareness. Stephanie underwent treatment at 26, and was diagnosed with cancer yet again, 10-years later. For years after that, she and her husband tried to start a family. They experienced miscarriages, heartbreak, and tears. But today, she is cancer-free, and a mom to beautiful twins, Brooke and Robert.

Stephanie and her family
Stephanie with her husband and twins, Brooke and Robert

Jamie Pleva-Nickerson is also a Fairfield County mom, living in Danbury with her husband and their twin girls. Jamie was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 29, shortly before her sister passed away from breast cancer at the age of 41. Here is some advice Stephanie and Jamie have for other young women, whether you’ve dealt with breast cancer in your family or not.

Jamie, now cancer-free, with her family
Jamie, with her husband and twin girls.

Know your body:
When you think something is wrong, be proactive. Every time Stephanie was diagnosed, SHE was the one who found the lump in her breast. Fortunately her doctor took her concerns seriously, but I know many young women who had to go to numerous doctors before finally receiving a cancer diagnosis, because their doctors dismissed their initial concerns. “You’re too young for breast cancer,” is something many women have heard at one point. Jamie is convinced her sister would be alive today if doctors had taken her initial concerns seriously.

It can happen to anyone:
In Stephanie’s words, “Cancer doesn’t discriminate.” It has no age limit (or minimum). While celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Christina Applegate have made people more aware of breast cancer and the BRCA gene, there are still far too many women who don’t know they are at risk. And here’s a scary statistic, for all of us mamas: Breast cancer is the most common cancer in pregnant and postpartum women. It occurs in about 1 in 3,000 pregnant and lactating women!* And to make matters worse, it’s sometimes hard to detect a lump because of the natural tenderness and engorgement of the breasts of pregnant and lactating women. So, be aware of any changes in their look or feel, and have a breast exam as part of routine doctor’s visits if you are pregnant or lactating. (*Statistics from www.youngsurvival.org).

You CAN have a family:
Since day 1 of her cancer diagnosis, Stephanie says she always wanted a family. It was a long journey, but she and her husband now have 2-beautiful babies, via a surrogate.

Jamie has beautiful twin girls, conceived via IVF, thanks to the fact that she also froze her eggs before treatment. (Advice she received from another cancer survivor, after whom she named one of her twins!).

Tessa and Gracie, Jamie's twins
Tessa and Gracie, Jamie’s twins.

As Stephanie says, families come in all different shapes and sizes, and no matter how you conceive a child, or if you adopt a child, it is still the greatest joy!

Reach out for support:
Both Stephanie and Jamie are actively involved in the Young Survival Coalition, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting young women with breast cancer. It was through this organization they were able to find other young women battling breast cancer, and talk openly about fertility struggles. The YSC is holding their annual fundraiser on May 8th in NYC, where Stephanie will be honored this year.
It promises to be an amazing night out, and you will be guaranteed to meet women and moms who will inspire you! You can also log onto the YSC’s website for more info.

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I am passionate about breast cancer awareness because my mother is a breast cancer survivor as well. (And she is doing amazing. My hero!) But sadly, in the roughly 3-minutes it took to read this blog, yet another woman has been told that she has breast cancer.  Hopefully through research, and organizations like the YSC, we can put an end to this vicious cycle.

Has your family been affected by breast cancer? Are you proactive about checking yourself?

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Erica lives in Stamford with her husband Peter, son Jake, and their (100-pound!) rescue dog Sampson. Erica was a News Anchor and Reporter for 14-years before resigning from her full-time position to spend more time at home with Jake. Last year, she won a NY Emmy for her work at News 12 CT. Jake and Erica keep busy with music classes, yoga, and swimming. Erica loves to travel, and spent some time as a volunteer in South Africa in 2009, where she jumped off the highest bungee bridge in the world! She and her husband love to SUP (stand-up paddle board) around southwestern Connecticut, and can't wait to teach their son!

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