Gina and Melissa
Personal Stories

“My sister was always there to help me, but now I had to be strong for her”

My sister, Melissa, is my best friend. I’ve always looked up to her and followed in her footsteps. As the oldest of four (we have two little brothers), she would always be bossing us around at home. I was like her little sidekick who would do whatever she wanted, no matter what. She always let me tag along with her friends and in high school I was always known as “Melissa’s little sister,” not Gina. Growing up, we were inseparable and would say to each other, “what do other girls without sisters do all day?”

On September 2nd, 2016, Melissa was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was 31 and had discovered a lump while breastfeeding.

“The doctor told her it was probably nothing, but she had a gut feeling and went back a couple of weeks later to do more testing.”

Melissa decided to advocate for her health, and she found out that she had 100% estrogen receptor positive breast cancer. When Melissa noticed the lump in her breast, we all told her it was nothing. She was persistent that something wasn’t right, but even when we were waiting on the results I didn’t think it was going to be cancer. So when she was diagnosed, we were all in a state of shock and disbelief.

“I always heard about this happening to other people, and older women. Not my family. Not my sister. Not someone who is only 31 years old.”

Gina’s sister, Melissa, remained strong during chemotherapy

Melissa went for her surgery about two weeks after being diagnosed, just 10 days before her son Niko’s first birthday. My mom took off work to go stay with her in New York to help with the baby. We all celebrated his first birthday while she had tubes hanging from her chest. Two days later, we found out that Melissa’s cancer had spread to one of her lymph nodes. It was devastating because we knew this meant that she needed further treatment.

After we got this horrible news, the roles that we played for each other as sisters switched. I was on the phone with her every day on my drive home from work. Building her up, giving her advice.

“She was always there to give me advice and help me, and now I had to be strong for her. I didn’t want her to know how scared I was, too.”

This journey has been so hard for all of us, but the worst part was waiting for the doctor visits. It was not knowing the plan of treatment and the fear of the unknown. She went to several doctors who were suggesting very aggressive chemotherapy treatments. She got several opinions and finally she decided to go with a milder form of chemotherapy.

After watching her endure chemotherapy every two weeks for the past few months, I am excited to say she finished her last treatment in February! We are all so excited to see her chemotherapy coming to an end and are hopeful for the future.

“To anyone who is dealing with something similar, know that this is only a temporary part of your life. Imagine yourself beyond the cancer. You will laugh again. You will get through this. This is not what defines your life.”

Melissa during her final chemotherapy session

Watching my sister go through all of this really made me want to do something more. Something that could help other women and prevent them from going through everything Melissa has. She has been so strong through this long and trying process. That’s what inspired me to take on running my first marathon, and do it on Team Bright Pink.

“To all the young women out there who think that it won’t happen to you: assess your risk. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor about your risk. Get checked, be breast self-aware, and let your doctor know if something doesn’t feel right. Don’t wait.”

I was introduced to Bright Pink a few years ago by a friend. After my sister was diagnosed I took advantage of the amazing tools that Bright Pink provides, like AssessYourRisk.org, and educated myself as much as I could. This experience really opened my eyes to how many young women are diagnosed with breast cancer. I think it’s so important that Bright Pink is so focused on educating women about breast and ovarian health at a young age. I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone else. I am so grateful that I still have my confidant, best friend and partner in crime here with me.

Melissa’s strength inspired Gina to run a marathon and help Bright Pink save women’s lives from breast & ovarian cancer. If there’s someone in your life who inspires you to be strong, visit TeamBrightPink.org to find out how you can dedicate your life-saving run in their honor.

Risk-Reduction Lifestyle, Video

What I Ate In A Day (to reduce my risk of breast & ovarian cancer)

 

What I Ate In A Day (to reduce my risk of breast & ovarian cancer) from Bright Pink on Vimeo.

Who knew that reducing your risk for breast and ovarian cancer could be so delicious? Bright Pink team member Cavya does, and she’s sharing her mouth-watering recipes below!

Bright Pink Smoothie Bowl

This super tasty smoothie bowl is a breeze to whip together and will probably make your Instagram dreams come true. And if that’s not enough to sell you, nutrient-packed ingredients like berries, tropical fruit, and flax seeds can help you lower your risk of breast and ovarian cancer. What more could you want?

Ingredients

  • Smoothie
    • ½ cup frozen strawberries
    • ¼ cup frozen raspberries
    • ½ cup greek yogurt
    • ½ cup almond milk
  • Toppings
    • ½ cup mango chunks
    • 2 tbsp unsweetened coconut flakes
    • 1 tbsp ground flax seeds
    • ¼ cup raspberries

Directions:

Blend together frozen berries, greek yogurt and almond milk into a thick smoothie. Pour into a bowl and top with the remaining ingredients. Feel like a goddess of health and wellness.

Vegan Lentil Curry with Brown Rice

This quick and simple curry packs in tons of protein and flavor and is the perfect go-to for #MeatlessMondays. Consuming high amounts of red meat has been proven to increase your risk of breast cancer, so cutting down whenever possible is always a great idea. Plus, a ton of these ingredients are on our cancer fighting grocery list

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp of fresh, minced ginger
  • 1 jalapeño, diced with seeds removed (optional)
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 dried red chili pepper (optional)
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp whole or ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 cup red lentils, rinsed thoroughly
  • 1 can light coconut milk
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 2 cups baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup brown rice

Directions:

Cook brown rice according to package directions. In a medium saucepan, saute onions, garlic, ginger and jalapeño in olive oil until soft. Add in spices (mustard seeds, dried chili, turmeric, cumin and curry powder) and let them toast for about 30 seconds. Add in diced tomato, coconut milk, water, salt, pepper and lentils, simmer for 30 minutes or until the lentils are soft and fully cooked. Add in baby spinach and stir. Serve over brown rice garnished with cilantro, a lime wedge, and a side of your favorite veggie.

We know you’ll love these delicious, risk-reducing recipes. If you try them out, make sure to post your finished product on Instagram and tag @BeBrightPink so we can ❤️️  your pic!

Personal Stories

“Running together is our therapy. Now we’re saving lives, too.”

I first heard about Bright Pink in 2007, when my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She mentioned her symptoms to her doctor (urinary changes, extensive bloating and feeling full), and he sent her home with heartburn medication. Sadly, she passed away two years later when she was only 56.

Bright Pink had fallen off my radar in recent years, but I got reacquainted in October 2016 when my cousin was hosting a KEEP Collective event. She knew my passion for breast and ovarian cancer education and invited me to partner with her in an online party where some of the KEEP items would go to benefit Bright Pink. While she showcased the sparkly goods, I used Bright Pink’s educational materials to teach the women in the party about their health.

Reconnecting with Bright Pink last October pushed me to get really familiar with Bright Pink’s education resources, and I was impressed.

Bright Pink is doing a great job putting out ready-to-share, useful resources, and that’s something I wanted to support.

I’m an avid runner, so joining Team Bright Pink for the 2017 Bank of America Chicago Marathon seemed like a natural next step!

After I made the decision to take on running and fundraising for Team Bright Pink, I decided to take the challenge one step further, and convince my friends to join me! Luckily, my friends don’t take much convincing! We all met each other through a running group, and running together is our sure-fire way to see each other. It’s our weekly therapy session and our excuse to travel together. I knew Kristin hadn’t done the Chicago Marathon yet, and I told her years ago I’d do it with her. I texted her and Nicole to see what they thought, and, by the end of the day, Renee and Diana had signed up too.

I have incredible friends. Even without having substantial ties to breast or ovarian cancer, or any awareness of Bright Pink, they jumped right in and pledged to fundraise. Just like that!

It isn’t always easy to stay motivated to train for our runs, and to be honest, we don’t do “motivation” very well. We’re great at complaining, whining, cussing and plotting how to get out of the next race. Despite that, we’re all running obsessed and will sign up for another race as soon as someone sends out a text.

I am so thrilled to be taking on this challenge with all my best friends for Bright Pink. I see it as my duty to educate my family and friends about ovarian cancer and listening to their bodies, so everyone has a better chance of an early diagnosis. Running the Chicago Marathon on Team Bright Pink is a way for all of us to spread Bright Pink’s life-saving message to even more women.


Are you inspired by Amy and her amazing friends? Join Team Bright Pink for the 2017 Bank of America Chicago Marathon, or one of many other races!

Early Detection, Risk-Reduction Lifestyle

Why you shouldn’t wait to call your doctor this month

The New Year might mean plenty of things for you. Maybe this is the year you read more, the year you stick to your exercise routine, or the year you treat yourself. But one action you definitely have to take is scheduling your annual well-woman exam. This check-up is a major component in your breast and ovarian cancer prevention and early detection strategy.

Even though Bright Pink’s official Call Your Doctor Day isn’t until June, why not get a jumpstart to 2017 and begin maintaining your breast and ovarian health by calling this month? After the influx of December patients, January is pretty calm at your OB-GYN office, so you might see your doctor in a few days rather than a few weeks. Here are some tips for calling the office to set up your appointment:

  • Call closer to the beginning of the month. The end of the month gets hectic at the OB-GYN when birth control prescriptions tend to run out and patients need refills ASAP. Avoid getting crowded out by last-minute appointments and call early in the month.
  • Schedule your appointment around popular days and time slots. The most popular days to visit the OB-GYN are Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the most booked times (daily) are 9 a.m., 10 a.m., and 2 p.m. Unless you need to see your doctor at these times, be flexible with the receptionist.
  • Prepare for your visit. Another part of the new year for you might include insurance turnover, so make sure you have your updated info for the receptionist when you arrive (and arrive early!). To calm your nerves for the visit, print out and bring a copy of “5 Questions to Ask Your Doctor” so you know what to talk about. You can also discuss the results from Bright Pink’s Assess Your Risk tool if you take the quiz beforehand.

It takes the same amount of time to call your doctor as it does to brush your teeth — so do both today! (Just not at the same time.)


Bright Pink is dedicated to empowering young women to have life-saving conversations with their doctors about breast and ovarian health. Learn more about how to foster this positive relationship at BrightPink.org. And don’t forget your printable guide on what to ask your doctor.

Personal Stories

This kind of thing doesn’t happen to someone like me

I was always a very active person. I was either at the gym working out or running my three boys around to their various events. I ate organic fruits and vegetables (LOTS of vegetables) and very little meat. I was also an avid runner, and ran my first marathon in 2015 in Chicago.

Just a few weeks after completing the marathon, my world was turned upside down. On November 19, 2015, I discovered a lump in my breast. I didn’t think much of it and figured it would just go away. A couple of weeks later the lump remained and with the constant nagging of my husband I agreed to go to the doctor.

With my excellent health and lack of family history, no one suspected cancer. After a mammogram, ultrasound, and a biopsy for a “cyst,” I heard the words I thought I would never hear: “You have cancer.” At first, I thought they must be wrong, that my results had gotten mixed up with someone else’s.

I’m only 36 years old, this kind of thing doesn’t happen to someone like me. I was one of “those people” who believed that just because I did x, y, z, I would never have to deal with any major health issues.

After the initial shock wore off, I made the choice to tackle my diagnosis head on. I completed six rounds of chemotherapy and had a double mastectomy with reconstruction. Even though I got cancer despite my healthy habits, those same habits helped to keep me strong to fight cancer, and my doctors believed my healthy lifestyle kept my cancer from being worse than it was. I still believe in healthy eating and staying active as a means of prevention, but I now know that genetics play a big part in your health, too. I tested positive for the ATM gene.

I first heard about Bright Pink from a fellow member of my running group, who ran the 2016 Bank of America Chicago Marathon as a charity runner for Bright Pink. When I read about the organization I knew immediately that the next time I ran the Chicago Marathon it would be for Bright Pink. I love that Bright Pink focuses on educating women about how they can be proactive to prevent cancer or detect it early.

I learned a lot about breast cancer this past year, but I wish I had the knowledge that Bright Pink provides earlier.

I decided to run the 2017 Chicago Marathon as a charity runner for Bright Pink because I believe knowledge is power. My goal is to help other women learn about breast cancer prevention and early detection so that one day no woman will ever have to go through what I did.


Join Felicia and help Bright Pink empower women to live proactively by signing up for the 2017 Bank of America Chicago Marathon with Team Bright Pink.

Community

Celebrating 10 years and new beginnings at Bright Pink

Ten years ago, after becoming the youngest woman in the country to undergo a risk-reducing double mastectomy, I was a changed person. Having the opportunity to play offense, not defense, to be proactive, not reactive was empowering and life-changing.

I never planned to start a non-profit organization, but Bright Pink needed to be started. After experiencing this for myself, I knew that I had a responsibility to give other women the same opportunity.

Carli Feinstein, Bright Pink’s current Director of Strategic Engagement, was Bright Pink’s first intern. In the summer of 2008, she and Lindsay are editing the first Little Bright Book out of Bright Pink’s first HQ, Lindsay’s Chicago apartment.

Bright Pink started in 2007 as a website for women at high-risk for breast and ovarian cancer. At the start of 2017, it has evolved into a movement of millions of women who are proactive advocates for their breast and ovarian health.

Lindsay and Bright Pink’s first employee, Sarah Halberstadt, at a conference for young women affected by breast cancer.

The journey over the last ten years has been richer than I could have ever imagined, filled with snapshots of the impact we have been able to make: the first time I opened an email from a woman who said “thank you, you saved my life”; watching as we crossed $1 million dollars in the bank account; hearing the head of Harvard’s OB/GYN program describe our workshop as “game-changing”; experiencing our first Times Square take-over with Orbit White gum and then subsequent take-overs with Aerie; listening as one of our education ambassadors praised Bright Pink as the reason she will get to be at her son’s high school graduation; celebrating as our 250,000th person completed a risk assessment at AssessYourRisk.org.

Dr. Deborah Lindner, Bright Pink’s Chief Medical Officer with Lindsay, at a Bright Pink fundraiser.

These moments, and countless others over the last 10 years have been a driving force for me personally, even in the toughest times: finding out we didn’t get that big philanthropic gift we were counting on, seeing the results from a failed program we were so hopeful about, losing a beloved member of the Bright Pink family we all thought was going to defy the odds. I have fallen and gotten back up, learned so much, and been reminded that even with the best intentions, this work is really, really hard, and sometimes, my own leadership fell short.

Lindsay on the set of the TODAY show with Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee, after receiving Self Magazine’s “Women Doing Good” award.

While I have been entrusted the honor of leading the Bright Pink charge for the first decade and am proud to say that I’ve helped save thousands of lives, I am very certain I am not the right person to lead the organization from a day-to-day perspective into the next decade. I have grown to realize that my skill-set lies in being that gut-driven entrepreneur, who can get something off the ground and achieve a critical mass. But, as they say, what got us here, won’t get us there: Bright Pink is in need of a seasoned leader who can take us to the next level and help the organization achieve its full potential.

Lindsay speaking at Bright Pink’s signature fundraising event: ChangeMakers 2016.

With this in mind, we have started the search for a new CEO, who will lead the organization on a daily basis. As soon as we identify this new leader, I will be assuming my next challenge as Chairman of the Board, focusing my efforts on supporting our new CEO and leading the organization from a new vantage point.

As we pause and celebrate the last decade of positive impact, it is also important to realize how much work still has to be done.

There are still women that have no idea that their father’s side of the family history influences their cancer risk as much as their mother’s side. There are still women that don’t go to the doctor regularly or understand how to be breast self-aware. There are still women needlessly dying of breast and ovarian cancer that could have been prevented with early intervention. Bright Pink is the answer and growing the reach and impact of our life-saving programs can change all of this.

I am so thankful for the enormous support and contribution of so many who have enabled our success this last decade. Our partners, donors, staff, volunteers, ambassadors have been unmatched and it has been one of my greatest honors to lead Bright Pink and save countless lives. I know the future of this organization is extremely bright.

Lindsay at her desk at Bright Pink’s headquarters in Chicago.

Happy, Healthy New Year!

All the best in 2017 and beyond,

Lindsay Avner


Lindsay Avner will transition to become Bright Pink’s Chairman of the Board in February 2017. This transition marks the beginning of a new, exciting era for Bright Pink as we continue giving women the tools to become proactive advocates for their own health. Learn how to get involved with Bright Pink today.

Bright Pink has retained Koya Leadership Partners to conduct the search for Bright Pink’s next CEO. Check out the position profile and feel free to direct any inquiries to [email protected]

Personal Stories

My health provider gave me a second chance at life through preventative care

I have a long family history with cancer. My father was a BRCA2 mutation carrier, and passed away from prostate cancer. My aunt died from breast cancer in her late 40’s. I also lost my grandmother after a long battle with both breast and ovarian cancer…she was a fighter! So when my gynecologist informed me that I carry the BRCA2 gene mutation, it was hard to stay positive.

Luckily, I am fortunate to be under the care of a doctor who really believes in holistic care for her patients. After I tested positive for the BRCA2 mutation, she was every bit as concerned with my mental health as she was about the preventative steps I would take to reduce my risk of cancer. She really took the extra step to make sure I would get the support I needed. That’s how I learned about Bright Pink.

My doctor felt strongly that support from Bright Pink was so important to navigating the healthcare maze that is having a genetic mutation linked to high incidence of breast and ovarian cancer, and she was right.

Through Bright Pink, I got the support and information that I needed as I went through my journey to manage my risk. Ultimately, after a lot of consideration and consultation with my OB/GYN, I made the decision to undergo a double mastectomy, reconstruction and oophorectomy.

I truly feel like I’ve been given a second chance, and because of that, I feel that I need to be an advocate for prevention and early detection! Joining Team Bright Pink turned out to be the perfect outlet.

As a very active woman living with the BRCA2 gene mutation, I want to show other women in this situation that being BRCA+ does not have to be a death sentence.

It is super scary, and you have to go through a lot of testing, doctors appointments and maybe even surgeries, but this is a chance to live your life! That’s why I chose to participate in Iron Man Chattanooga. I felt really compelled to use the race as a platform for cancer prevention and early detection.

I am so thankful that I’ve had the support of Bright Pink. They’ve really helped me feel like I am not alone, which is so important when dealing with what can be an overwhelming and scary medical situation. I am glad I got to show my gratitude and give back by fundraising and representing Team Bright Pink at the Iron Man Chattanooga!


Jennifer is sharing her story to demonstrate the importance of being able to have open and honest conversations about your family history and breast & ovarian cancer risk levels with your health provider. Learn more about how Bright Pink is equipping more health providers like Jennifer’s on the latest risk assessment and management techniques.

Personal Stories

Survivors face challenges everyday, so I chose to challenge myself

When Gabriela Morón lines up for the TCS New York City Marathon, it will be her fourth time taking on 26.2 miles. Having previously finished marathons in Chicago and Milwaukee, she is expecting this course to be the most difficult to run, but that hasn’t stopped her from tackling another challenge: fundraising for Bright Pink.

On November 6, Gabriela will represent Team Bright Pink with her run. Having a family history of ovarian cancer, she understands the importance of Bright Pink’s work.

“I, myself, carry the BRCA1 gene. It is important for me to educate and prepare myself for the unknown.”

Gabriela’s mother knew she was high-risk and underwent a preventive hysterectomy in 2009, and then a preventive mastectomy in 2011. It was through this journey that the hospital staff connected Gabriela’s family with Bright Pink.

“They said it would be a good opportunity for me to learn about [breast and ovarian health],” Gabriela explains, “and that I could better relate because it was coming from girls closer to my age. It is important for me to fundraise for Bright Pink so women can continue to be aware of what their options are and can choose to act on them.”

Gabriela has chosen to dedicate this marathon to her Aunt Pita, an ovarian cancer survivor who is determined to create a brighter future for the next generation.

“Survivors still face challenges every day, so I choose to challenge myself.”

This is not the first challenge Gabriela has taken on for Team Bright Pink. Last year, she ran the Chicago Half Marathon and raised over $1,800 for Bright Pink. This year, her goal for the NYC Marathon is $2,500. Reaching both goals would mean that Gabriela has personally empowered Bright Pink to teach over 1,730 women breast and ovarian cancer prevention!

To others who are fundraising for Bright Pink, Gabriela has a few words of advice, “Tell others why this charity is unique to you. And tell EVERYONE, you would be surprised how many people are willing to make a donation.”


Want to empower women’s breast & ovarian health with a run like Gabriela’s? Join Team Bright Pink to lock in your spot for the 2017 Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

Early Detection, Risk-Reduction Lifestyle

Results Are In: Women And Employers Want Better Coverage For Prevention

Early detection is critical to surviving breast cancer — when detected early, the 5-year survival rate can be greater than 98%. In time for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we partnered with APCO Insight to survey women and benefit managers about what matters most to them when it comes to early detection.

Today, there are two types of mammograms available — 2D and 3D. Studies show that 3D mammograms can detect cancer 15 months earlier than 2D mammograms, reduce incidents of false-positive results, and could save up to $550 million in U.S. breast cancer spending.

Take a look at what our survey reveals:

“With overwhelming support for a better mammogram, the reality is that most insurers do not cover 3D mammograms.”

“As so many companies turn pink this month, what can employers do to champion their female workforce’s access to a better mammogram?”

Employers can and should do better. If you are an employer, sign on to the Americans for Breast Health Employer pledge and commit to holding insurers accountable for early detection!

For more resources on breast cancer prevention, visit our BrightPink.org.


The research, conducted by APCO Insight in September 2016, included 1,500 interviews of women aged 30–65 who work for large companies, and 51 employee benefits managers at large companies. The full survey can be found here.

Personal Stories

Dianne Gunther: BRCA+ and #NotDoneYet

In 2011, I tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation, which put me at high risk for both breast and ovarian cancer.

Receiving the news that I carried the potentially life-changing mutation was certainly frightening, but my future instantly started looking brighter once my doctor handed me a “Little Bright Book” that introduced me to Bright Pink.

After attending an Outreach event, where I met other young high-risk women who had undergone prophylactic surgery, my options started to seem less scary and I started thinking that surgery might be the right choice for me. I remained proactive by getting annual MRIs for several years, and when the timing was right for me, I decided to have a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy in October 2015 at age 27. This means that I had my healthy breast tissue removed to lower my risk of developing cancer. I can now proudly say that my lifetime risk of breast cancer is less than 5%!

Today, I volunteer as a Bright Pink Support Ambassador in Boston, which means that I organize monthly Outreach events for high-risk women in the Boston area. I continue to be impressed by the women I meet each month, and I look forward to both new and familiar faces. We talk about scary medical procedures, awkward dating scenarios, losing loved ones to cancer, and any other challenging experiences unique to young, high-risk women.

I chose to run the Chicago Marathon for Bright Pink because Bright Pink has had such a personal impact on my life.

I run for Team Bright Pink to raise money for Outreach events and resources, like the ones that were so helpful to me on my high-risk journey, and also to support the educational programs that empower ALL women to take control of their own health.

On a more personal level, the Chicago Marathon took place on October 9, 2016 — roughly one year after my surgery. I truly believe that Bright Pink has helped make my future infinitely brighter, and when I ran on October 9, I was thinking of how grateful I am to have a better chance at a healthy future ahead of me and the opportunity to share Bright Pink’s message with others.


Dianne is sharing her story to help demonstrate the importance of genetic testing and being proactive with breast and ovarian health. Dianne is #NotDoneYet until all women are educated about breast & ovarian cancer prevention and early detection. Donate to help make that possible.

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