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An unwanted family trait. A reason to support research.

By BCRF | April 5, 2017

With a family history of breast cancer, Patsy Callahan committed herself to raising funds for research after her own diagnosis with the disease.

For Patsy Callahan, breast cancer runs in her blood. After watching her mother die of metastatic disease over two decades ago, she remembered feeling eerily destined to follow in her footsteps. Soon after her mother’s passing and within months of her only daughter’s wedding, her intuition was realized after a mammogram revealed she had early stage breast cancer.

The news wasn’t as much a shock as it was an inflection point in her treatment choice.

“I always felt I was going to develop breast cancer. My big decision was whether I would remove one or both breasts,” she said.

Callahan was diagnosed in 1997 with DCIS in one of her breasts. While the cancer was caught early, Callahan was concerned about her prognosis given her family’s history. After discussing her options with several doctors, she elected to have a bilateral mastectomy.

The decision didn’t come easy for Callahan, a mother of four; it took her nearly three months to make. Along the way, she interacted with a physician who not only helped her tailor her treatment, but also inspired her to become an advocate for breast cancer research.

Dr. Funmi Olopade, a BCRF grantee since 2001 and physician at the University of Chicago, introduced Callahan to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation—then a nascent organization dedicated to supporting a handful of researchers internationally.

“Dr. Olopade inspired me to raise funds for research,” Callahan said.  

For a decade, Callahan and her husband Patrick have become tireless BCRF supporters and strong believers in the power of research, helping the Foundation to grow into the robust organization it is today.

“Researchers dedicate their lives to investigating breast cancer,” Callahan said, adding that their compensation doesn’t necessarily reflect the difficult work they do. “It’s so very important to support them.”

Many BCRF researchers have become the Callahans’ close friends, attending their children’s weddings, graduations and other family functions. Callahan also discovered at a BCRF luncheon that she attended the same high school as BCRF researcher Dr. Mary-Claire King, the geneticist who identified the BRCA1 genetic mutation.

“I like to joke that while she was in AP Biology, I was in gym class,” she said, noting the prize-winning accomplishments of Dr. King.  

Being surrounded by the greatest minds in breast cancer research has expanded Callahan’s own understanding of the disease and motivates her to continue her philanthropic work for the cause.

“Research has already taken us so far,” Callahan says pointing to advancements in genetic testing, emerging targeted therapies and the development of immunotherapy.

“Every year brings more hope.”