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Research Is the Reason I Can Make a Difference

By BCRF | October 18, 2022

For Board Member Kerone Vatel, BCRF’s mission is very personal

On the eve of her 70th birthday, BCRF Board Member Kerone Vatel’s mom, Barbara, found out she had breast cancer. It was a complete shock to their entire family.

“My mother is a very healthy person,” Kerone said. “The kind of person who has never even had a headache.”

Kerone’s mom was successfully treated after chemotherapy, Herceptin, and radiation. Kerone, who traveled to Jamaica regularly while her mom was in treatment, said it was difficult for her and her siblings to see their mother “laid bare” by the diagnosis and lose her hair.

“She’s a very stoic woman,” Kerone said. “I’ve seen my mother cry twice in her life. Once was a few years earlier when my dad died in a freak accident. It was tough for her to be confronted with this. And it was tough for us as her children to see her go through the process where she was not only transformed physically, as she lost her glossy head of hair, but also transformed emotionally to a more vulnerable place.”

Around the same time, Kerone also found out that a close friend, who was then in her mid-30s, had been diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive form of the disease that disproportionately impacts Black women and younger women.

Watching both her mom and her friend undergo treatment—several years after losing her dad very suddenly—was a wake-up call for Kerone.

“It was yet another reminder that we don’t know how long we’re here,” Kerone said. “It’s so important to be intentional about how we spend our time and to pour into the people who we love and to be surrounded by people who can lean in and lift us up.”

Knowing Kerone’s personal connections to breast cancer, BCRF Board Member Andrea Redmond introduced her to the Foundation and its support for research related to disparities and Black women. As Kerone was learning about BCRF, her connection to our cause became even deeper.

Kerone had found a small lump in her breast and for a few months was trying to get a straight answer about whether the mass was cancer—undergoing numerous biopsies and eventually switching doctors in the process.

“I was on a Zoom meeting at work when I got the call from my doctor’s office, and she shared my diagnosis,” Kerone said. “I instantly burst into tears because I was overwhelmed. It was the summer of 2020. I was deeply involved in the Covid war room at my company. I was trying to keep some semblance of normalcy in the kids’ lives despite summer activities being canceled. I thought I had turned my Zoom camera off, but then I got back on the call, and everyone was staring at me because they had seen all of my tears.”

Kerone’s diagnosis changed her in several ways. A private person, she began sharing her experience with others and discovered “a secret sisterhood” of women in her network who had also been treated for breast cancer but had kept their diagnoses private for fear of how they would be perceived in the workplace.

Kerone initially got a lumpectomy, but then was told she needed to come back for a re-excision. After weighing her options and talking to others, she opted instead to get a bilateral mastectomy.

“It was a tough decision, especially because I had to take myself out of the workplace for several weeks, in the middle of a global crisis,” she said. “But it was helpful to regain a little bit of control.”

Friends and family were with her throughout her recovery.

“They really showed up for me and loved me in a way I don’t think I’ve ever felt before,” she said. “I’m not someone who knows how to ask for help, and they just showed up and poured into me. This experience really taught me so much about myself.”

Kerone’s breast cancer experience also pushed her to change careers and devote more time to philanthropy. Today, she serves as the global head of Community Impact and Investment at Capital One, and in 2021, she officially joined BCRF’s Board of Directors to help advance our mission to fund the world’s most promising research.

“I was so blown away by BCRF’s research and focus,” she said. “There were so many tangible examples where I could see how research has played a role in the lives of people I know and in my own life.”

Read more stories from BCRF’s Research Is the Reason storytelling initiative here.