This blog was written by Zoë Mintz, BCRF's Manager of Digital Communications
Growing up, separation anxiety was my second name. I was the kid who hid behind her mom’s legs, refusing to leave her side. I cried for two weeks straight during my first year at sleep away camp. No matter how hard I begged to come home, my mom told me to stay strong and stick it out. I’m glad I did.
Today my family is facing a greater challenge—one that may prove to separate my mom and me forever. In 2009 my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. After successfully completing treatment, her cancer returned four years later. Today she is living with stage IV breast cancer, also known as metastatic disease.
My mom has triple negative breast cancer—a rare and aggressive form of the disease. Funny enough, these two words describe my mom too. Her colorful outfits, big binder filled with lab results and unabashed tenacity are hard to miss at the hospital where she collaborates with several doctors to determine her treatment plan. She has obtained an honorary PhD in her diagnosis—constantly reading scientific journals, investigating new clinical trials and following cancer conferences online. At the doctor’s office, a bystander could easily mistake the interaction as a conversation among colleagues where they discuss treatments, dosage and side effects in clinical terms. This high level knowledge is not for everyone; however it’s how my mom found her power in the direst circumstances.
When my mom was initially diagnosed, I was in college, and I rallied my family and friends to fundraise for her hospital in Montreal, Canada. It was an empowering experience that allowed us to create something positive in a difficult time. When her cancer recurred, I was living and working in New York City. This time I wasn’t able to be her “cancierge” —be by her side during treatment, keep her company in hospital waiting rooms or pick up trashy tabloid magazines to distract her when the side effects kicked in.
But I found a different way to work in tandem with my mom: a friend sent me a job opening at the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which I learned is the nation’s highest-rated breast cancer charity dedicated solely to advancing research.
While I couldn’t physically be with my mom day-to-day, this opportunity was a powerful way to stay involved in her journey.
As the manager of digital communications, I often speak with BCRF fundraisers, many of whom find themselves in situations similar to my own. We connect on the devastating effects of this disease and share thoughts on the considerable advances research has made possible. In my professional role, I’m also able to interact directly with many BCRF researchers, report on their latest studies, meet with them at medical conferences and hear their personal reasons for dedicating their careers to breast cancer research.
Forget George Clooney or the Oscars. My mom goes berserk when she hears I met Dr. Leisha Emens, an oncologist who specializes in immunotherapy, or attended the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. My mom’s experience informs everything I do at the Foundation. While I share the latest BCRF-funded research in cancer vaccines with supporters like you, my mom is in Montreal receiving some of these new medications in clinical trials. She takes risks to get the best care possible. And our researchers take risks—thinking outside the box, following challenging leads and making bold moves—to uncover the next breakthrough.
My mom’s example energizes me every day. She doesn’t give up, no matter how difficult the circumstances. While cancer is a club neither of us wanted to be invited to, it has bound us together in ways I never believed possible. It’s this bond that brought me to BCRF and helped me find my passion, power and purpose. It’s her strength that will keep me going – regardless of the distance between us.