This was not supposed to happen... I'm the one who takes care of others. I am a clinician who deals with breast cancer patients every day of my life.
When I got the news in 2001 telling me that the biopsy results were positive for breast cancer, I felt like I'd been punched in the gut. I had just lost my sister from multiple myeloma. I had spent the last three years dealing with my sister's cancer never dreaming that I would soon be dealing with my own.
At the time I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I had been a Nurse Practitioner at the Revlon Breast Center at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) for many years. When I began working with Dr. Susan Love there, I knew nothing about breast cancer, but a lot about patients and how to take care of them. Through Susan's teaching, I became passionate about the cause as well as the patients. She introduced me to the politics of breast cancer, which led to my being in the White House with the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC) when President Clinton proclaimed that breast cancer would be a national priority. We were in a revolution. At that time, the Department of Defense (DOD) started a program that involved consumers being at the table with scientists, making decisions regarding research together. My passion for issues surrounding breast cancer grew.
My daily routine at the Revlon/UCLA Breast Center consisted of educating women about early diagnosis, discussing treatment options, and most of all getting to know them one by one. I also learned something new every day as I was in an academic arena where breast cancer cases were discussed every week at the UCLA multidisciplinary program. Herceptin was just coming into the breast cancer world, and Her2neu was a common word because Dr. Dennis Slamon was at all our weekly conferences. It was a very exciting time. Little did I know that, if not for the DOD, herceptin might never have been.
As the years went on, Dr. Susan Love left UCLA and Dr. Helena Chang became the director of the center. We had an instant rapport, and we continued to build the breast center to be world famous. Helena became very involved in research, and I became the delegate to the NBCC.
Helena submitted my name to the DOD to be a peer reviewer in 2003. I was delighted to become a part of this ground-breaking process. I was also terrified to think that I would be sitting at the table with some of the brightest and the best scientists in the country. I quickly realized that those scientists are human beings with the same issues that we all have. Few of them had not been touched themselves in some way by breast cancer.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer myself, I asked, How did this become about me? I wanted my passion to be about others. What I realized is that I was just one of nearly 200,000 women a year who are diagnosed with breast cancer. It was not about me at all. It was about us!
I have now been a consumer reviewer several times and each time I come away with tremendous hope that we are going to eradicate this disease. When I read the proposals, I am energized by reading new ideas and stimulated when I don't understand a term and must "look it up."
I must have been diagnosed because I need to be reminded that this is an epidemic, and that while my contribution to end this disease is small, when each of our efforts are added together, that effort becomes monumental.
The DOD experience is one I won't give up even after I retire from patient care. It is the one place that brings together scientists and advocates and makes us realize that we are all in this together.