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Longtime BCRF Volunteer Shares Her Connection to the Cause

After Cathy Kerrigan learned she was a BRCA2 carrier, her sister Peg became her champion.
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When Cathy Kerrigan woke up from her mastectomy surgery, her older sister Peg was the first person she saw.

“You look beautiful. You don’t even look like you had surgery,” Peg said.

Seven years later, Cathy still remembers this moment clearly. She credits Peg’s support for giving her a sense of peace every step of the way. 

“I remember thinking, ‘It’s because of you, Peg, I’m okay,’” she says. “She was really a rock.”

Months before her surgery, Cathy learned she was a BRCA2 carrier. She immediately turned to her older sister for guidance. At the time, Peg was BCRF’s Deputy Director and Chief Program Officer where she managed the organization’s multi-million dollar grant program.

“Peg made me feel like I didn’t have to panic.” Cathy says. “We were doing this together.” 

The sisters met with BCRF researcher Dr. Elisa Port who helped explain Cathy’s breast cancer risk. While Cathy didn’t have detectable disease at the time, she decided to undergo preventative surgery to reduce her risk of developing breast cancer in the future.

“I had an 84 percent chance of developing breast cancer by the time I was 70 years old,” she said. “I couldn’t live with those odds.”

Breast cancer had already impacted their family. Years earlier, one of Cathy and Peg’s younger sisters had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Later, the disease metastasized. However, her current treatment has kept the cancer at bay. She currently has no evidence of disease.

“We’re forever grateful,” Cathy said.

Cathy and Peg grew up surrounded by science. Their father was a cardiologist who became the town doctor in their hometown of Mechanicville, New York. While Peg’s career took her to BCRF, Cathy became a NICU nurse.

“I always looked up to Peg,” Cathy says remembering their childhood. “She’s always been a leader.”

The sisters are six years apart – which felt like an eternity during childhood – but today they share strong bond.

After Cathy learned her BRCA2 carrier status, BCRF researcher and renowned geneticist Dr. Mary-Claire King and her colleague Jessica Mandell, a genetic counselor, approached her family to see if they would be interested in participating in a study about inherited breast cancer risk. Cathy jumped at the opportunity to participate. Many of their relatives have followed suit.  

For Cathy, scientific studies like this one will help other families manage their risk.

“If there’s anything I can do to further research so future generations don’t have to deal with breast cancer, then I will,” she says.

Outside of her scientific contributions, Cathy gives back every year by lending her calligraphy talents to write escort cards for BCRF’s fundraising events. It’s a hobby she developed in ninth grade after her teacher fostered her aptitude for the art.

“I’ve always enjoyed it,” she says describing how she writes up to 1,100 escort cards ahead of the Foundation’s major fundraising events. For Cathy, it’s an easy way to contribute to the BCRF community.

“As a former nurse, I strongly believe research will make the difference in understanding and effectively treating breast cancer,” Cathy says. “For me, supporting BCRF is a no-brainer. It’s where our future lies.”

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