This October—we call it Breast Cancer Prevention Month—the Breast Cancer Fund's Prevention Is Power campaign is educating thousands about what they can do to reduce breast cancer risk.
For many, including breast cancer survivor Leslie Vanoni, prevention is about protecting our daughters from this devastating disease. Here's Leslie's story.
By Leslie Vanoni, Guest Blogger
On Valentine’s Day 2011, then sober a year and a half, I got the news that the breast cancer I thought I had beat years earlier had metastasized to my bones and lungs. Stage-four cancer. I was terrified, knowing there’s no stage five. How was I going to tell my twin thirteen-year-old daughters? They had already been through so much. I was diagnosed the first time on their fourth birthday. They saw their healthy mother become very sick. They saw me cry as my hair fell out. They saw the fear in my eyes. I became angry and full of self-pity. I drank a lot.
This time, I set out to show my girls it is possible to get through difficult times with grace. While I was afraid most days, I stayed sober.
In January 2012, I was told that I was in complete remission. Just as I was recovering from a year of treatment, my employer, Autodesk, Inc., invited me to be the company’s sponsored climber in the Breast Cancer Fund’s Climb Against the Odds 2012 expedition of Mt. Shasta. I didn’t know a thing about the Breast Cancer Fund, and I was out of shape, but I said yes. If I had spent any time looking up on the Internet what it takes to climb the massive Mt. Shasta, I would have pulled the “cancer card” and politely declined. But on blind faith, I decided to do it, and it was one of the best decisions I have made in a long time.
Training became a form of meditation. Putting one foot in front of the other, I began to feel stronger and calmer. When I shared my story with my fellow trainees, they didn’t gasp. Instead, they greeted me before every training hike with hugs.
On the hikes I began to learn about the Breast Cancer Fund and why these people were so passionate about its mission to prevent the disease. My girls ask me all the time if they will get breast cancer. I wish I knew that the answer was no, but I don't. What I do know is that the Breast Cancer Fund is working every day to make sure fewer people ever have to get the terrible diagnosis. And I know I will continue to do what I can to support this work.
Driving alone up to Mt. Shasta to begin the expedition, I began to think I had completely lost my mind—that maybe I should turn around and go home. But I didn’t, and when I was greeted by the other climbers and the Breast Cancer Fund staff, I immediately knew everything would be OK. Doubt was replaced by faith, and fear was replaced by courage. I was not alone, and we were climbing to prevent breast cancer. I was becoming a woman I could be proud of and a mother my girls could be proud of. I was realizing that focusing on preventing breast cancer was helping me get my life back.