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A Match for Ellen

Longtime Bright Pink supporter, Brianna Meade, shares her personal connection to Bright Pink’s mission as well as her special relationship with her mother, Ellen.

Throughout the month of May, Brianna and her family are matching all donations (up to $10,000) through the Ellen Marks Cancer Foundation, a foundation created to honor her mother’s legacy. Read on to learn more about Brianna and how she’s honoring her mother’s legacy by being proactive about her health.

Hometown

Chicago

How did you first hear about Bright Pink?

I met the founder Lindsay [Avner] through a mutual friend and was so inspired to hear about Bright Pink’s work.

Why did you and your family choose to support Bright Pink?

My mother carried the BRCA2 gene (unknowingly) and she passed away eight years ago due to complications with her long fight with metastatic breast cancer.

I underwent genetic testing, not knowing that my mother was a carrier. I had people, even doctors, telling me I did not fit the typical profile for a carrier, which is ridiculous because I do indeed have the BRCA2 gene. Due to a positive test, I immediately went to my OBGYN only to find out I had breast cancer. I was only 33. I had a radical double mastectomy eight days after my diagnosis followed by months of treatment. So to say the cause [Bright Pink] is near and dear to our heart is almost an understatement.

What do you want our community to know about your mother?

It’s hard to explain how much you love your mother in words, right?

I was beyond lucky to have her. Even though it wasn’t long enough, she taught me how to be the strong woman I am today. She was wise, loving, deeply caring, an adventure seeker, classy, intelligent and someone people came to for advice.

She was private about her health struggle, (it was incredibly hard on her) and there was nothing more she wanted then to be here right now [today]. She was the fiercest fighter I have ever met, all while doing it with dignity and grace.

What are your favorite memories of your mom?

There are so many; she was my best friend. The person I called every morning, noon and night. But I’ll go with the last great memory we had together. We went to Paris for my 30th birthday. It was a magical time for me, I was always in awe of my mother and there was just something so alluring about her. On this trip, I felt like she was finally letting me in on all of her little ways and secrets, and I just gobbled it all up. We laughed and talked for hours on that trip and it’s burned into my memory.

How can people learn more about the Ellen Marks foundation?

It’s a foundation my family started in honor of our mom. We work primarily with cancer charities and [we] have a close relationship with Northshore Hospitals.

Advice for fellow moms?

Oh gosh, I don’t know we are all just trying our best!  I guess I would say just try and be present, honest and open with them [children]. My two little ones are my whole world and I made a promise to myself to shower them with love, honesty, and openness while also giving them discipline when needed and structure.

Also please make time for yourself when it comes to your health! My son was six months old when I undergone genetic testing, and seven months old when I was diagnosed. I am beyond thankful I made my health a priority even during the throes of new motherhood.

What do you want other women to know about taking control of their health?

I’d love to see the fear come out of it. I hear sometimes, “oh I’d just rather not know,” or “it’s too scary to find out my genetic history.” I always say it’s actually scarier not to know!

Knowledge is power, take that in. You can be proactive about something that could change the trajectory of your life. You become empowered with knowledge and options instead of fear and worry.

Any Words of Wisdom on how to make prevention a priority?

To put it simply, I may not be here right now if I didn’t make my health and prevention a priority. I found my cancer at a treatable stage but do I wish I had known about this [BRCA] gene earlier in life so I could have taken the route of prevention instead of treatment. I can’t change that. I did change [my narraritive] when it came to getting my preventative oophorectomy last year. I was ready and felt very empowered by my choice of prevention.

It’s 2019 and it’s time to evolve and to start a new way of thinking about our health.

 

Assess Your Risk, Community, Early Detection, Personal Stories

“I took time to #ListenUp to my health. It made a huge difference.”

When I got a phone call from my Uncle Joe, a surgical breast oncologist, several years ago I had no idea that it would save my life. He called because he knew I had three aunts who had been diagnosed with cancer (one passed away from ovarian cancer at just 41 years of age, another after a long battle with breast cancer, and one who is a breast cancer survivor to this day) and encouraged me to see a genetic specialist to better understand my personal breast and ovarian cancer risk.

Before long, I entered a program that took a deep dive into my family history. While my test results came back negative for the most common genetic mutations associated with these cancers, the genetic specialist shared that my risk factor was greater than the average woman. Knowing this allowed me to have very important conversations with my doctors about early detection and prevention strategies.

Several years later, during a routine self-exam, I found a lump. I remember it all too well: I had just worked out and had 15 minutes for a quick shower before I needed to take my son to basketball practice. In fact, I can still remember looking at the clock in a typical rushed state. I recall telling myself that I was no good to him if I was not here, took those few extra minutes, and proceeded with my exam.

After several tests, the lump was diagnosed as stage one breast cancer. Because of the information I already knew about my family health history, I chose to undergo a double mastectomy and later, an oophorectomy. Understanding my level of risk allowed me to make informed decisions about my health.

As I continue my quest to share knowledge as a Bright Pink Education Ambassador, I cannot stress the importance of taking the time to #ListenUp to your health. As a woman, I know that the role of caretaker comes to me naturally, in addition to being a wife, employee, and volunteer. As women, we never forget to take our children to the dentist, or miss a deadline on a work project–but somehow in the midst of all of this, we often forget ourselves and our own health.

I can’t count the number of times I have heard from smart, educated women, that “breast and ovarian cancers don’t run in their family” or “they have not had a mammogram lately/skipped their annual well woman’s exam because they feel good.” When I hear these things, I explain that no one is exempt from these conversations and that taking the time to #ListenUp to our bodies and catch these cancers at early, non life threatening stages is so, so important.

Here are three things you can do today to help #ListenUp to your body:

  • Know the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer–they can be confused with common digestive or menstrual issues.
  • Plan all of your annual doctor appointments for a specific month. For me, February is “take care of me month.”  I make sure that I schedule all of my annual appointments during this time because it works best for my life and schedule.
  • Use the first day of every month to remind myself to be self-aware. This month (and every month!), #ListenUp to your ovarian health, take note of any changes in your body, and spend some time collecting your family health history.

We know that these cancers are prevalent and serious. But if caught early, the survival rate is amazing! The key is to be your own health and wellness advocate, because early detection and prevention can save your life.  It saved mine.

SUSAN EURITT is a Bright Pink Educational Ambassador living in Chicago, IL. She is the Principal at Ruckus Strategic Partnership Consulting.

Assess Your Risk, Early Detection, Risk-Reduction Lifestyle

This September, We Want You to #ListenUp to Your Ovaries

Whether we recognize it or not, we are in constant conversation with our bodies. Dehydrated? Betcha have parched lips! Conquer an insanely hard workout last night? Those sore muscles sum it up perfectly. While some of these cues from our body are easier to recognize than others, let’s be real: our bodies are often the first to tell us when it is in need of some love or attention.

But, how often do we listen to our bodies when it comes to our ovarian health? When’s the last time you paused and took time to #ListenUp to what your ovaries are telling you? When we know that 1 in 75 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in her lifetime and the 5-year survival rate can be greater than 92% when detected early, there is no time like the present to get up close and personal with our ovaries and ovarian health.

This Ovarian Cancer Month, Bright Pink wants you to tune in and #ListenUp to what your ovaries are telling you! We want to empower you to be your ovaries’ best advocate by knowing the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, feeling confident in knowing your body, and collecting your family health history to better understand your individual risk level for ovarian cancer.

We know what you’re thinking, “Okay, I know I need to #ListenUp to my ovaries, but what do I #ListenUp for?” We have answers. While many of these signs and symptoms can be confused for common menstrual or digestive issues, it’s important to stay in tune with your body and take note of any changes. If these signs or symptoms persist or worsen for 2-3 weeks, see your doctor as ask: “Could it be my ovaries?”

Primary Symptoms

  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Needing to urinate urgently or often
  • Prolonged bloating
  • Difficulty eating/feeling full quickly

Secondary Symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Upset stomach or heartburn
  • Back pain
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Menstrual changes

Join us all month long in sharing these signs and symptoms with the women you love so they can also #ListenUp to their bodies. We will also be doing some exciting things on social (think: female-inspired playlist to bounce to all month long) in addition to sharing personal stories from amazing women in our network about their experience with ovarian health and cancer. Be sure to follow us on Facebook (@BrightPink), Instagram (@BeBrightPink), and Twitter (@BeBrightPink) and use the hashtag #ListenUp to stay as up-to-date as possible! 

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