Kathleen "Kat" Werner was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer at the age of 31 in 2006. At the time, she had two young children and was determined to learn everything she could to help her fight against this disease. On the night of her diagnosis, Kat's search for information led her to the Young Survival Coalition (YSC), which she credited as being transformative and invaluable in her breast cancer experience. She learned that there were very different options for young women with breast cancer and limited knowledge about issues unique to this population, such as fertility, reconstruction, and premature menopause. With YSC's help, she developed questions, researched the most current, evidence-based studies, and found the right clinicians who would work together with her to develop cutting-edge treatment and surgical reconstruction plans. Through this process, Kat realized she had the ability and passion to translate current research and knowledge about breast cancer in young women into usable information for other newly diagnosed women. She also realized her desire to be part of the dialogue between advocates and researchers.
Following her passion, Kat became a full-time breast cancer advocate with several national organizations, including YSC, the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC), Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation, and Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Kat graduated from science training programs, including the NBCC's Project Lead®, enriching her knowledge about breast cancer research. She travelled across the country, meeting with individual patients and survivors, lobbying Congress, and speaking with researchers, making sure that a survivor's voice is heard. Kat was nominated by YSC to serve as a consumer reviewer for the Department of Defense (DoD) Breast Cancer Research Program (BCRP), and she served on her first peer review panel in May 2009. She went on to serve on three more DoD BCRP peer review panels, bringing the perspective of breast cancer survivors and expressing the urgency for progress toward meaningful clinical solutions. Kat noted in July 2010, "As a younger woman diagnosed with breast cancer, the DoD BCRP provides me with an opportunity to make sure research in breast cancer is reaching the whole spectrum of individuals diagnosed. I love that my voice can help lead to finding a cure so that the next generation may have a chance at never having to deal with this disease."
Kat's ultimate goal was to help lead the fight in finding a cure before her young daughters grew up, so they might know a world without breast cancer. Tragically, Kat Werner passed away on September 23, 2012, at the age of 37, from a blood clot following the birth of her fourth child. She is survived by her husband, Jeff, and their four children, Bethany, Liam, Elise, and Micah.
The BCRP gratefully acknowledges and honors Kat's contributions and her commitment to the vision of ending breast cancer. Kat was an exceptional consumer reviewer who inspired many of the reviewers who served with her on BCRP peer review panels. The following quotes, from scientists who served with her on peer review panels, exemplify the kind of advocate she was for high-impact research that will make a difference in the fight against breast cancer:
"Kat had such a great depth of knowledge of the breast cancer field. She could understand basic research and how it might eventually be translated to the clinic. I was surprised to see a lay person with such a depth of knowledge. Kat reviewed so pragmatically, drawing on her own experiences of living with breast cancer. She always put patients first. Even during our casual conversations, she was keen to find out about the latest potential treatment options with respect to novel chemotherapeutics and where they were in development. I talked with her over the years, as recently as a few weeks before her passing. It was easy to put her on a pedestal. Kat was "numero uno" as both a reviewer and as a personal friend." - Dr. Venu Raman, Johns Hopkins University.
"I clearly recall Kat's remarkable passion and optimism as an advocate and in her personal life. She infused her reviews with an urgency for the development of new approaches designed to understand and treat breast cancer. Kat had an instinctive accuracy in her ability to identify and assess the kernel of potential advancement in each research application. We will miss her as we continue our shared focus to eliminate deaths due to breast cancer." - Dr. Todd Giorgio, Vanderbilt University.
"Like many of the breast cancer research advocates I have been privileged to know through the CDMRP grant review process, Kat was passionate about her cause and incredibly unselfish of her time, her energy and her efforts. She helped remind us all that breast cancer takes a very personal toll, and she inspired us as scientists to remain focused - not purely on the biology or the research, but on cures for women like herself. The CDMRP breast cancer research program was built on the drive and enthusiasm of Kat and other remarkable women like her, and she has left a legacy for which she and her family should be proud." - Dr. Prescott Deininger, Tulane Cancer Center.