Jada Conner, a sophomore communications major, was 17 years old and just starting her senior year of high school when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at 40 years old.
“Senior year is supposed to be a carefree, easygoing year however mine was not,” Conner said. “This experience humbled me to a great deal. I learned that [even though] we don’t know the reason something happens, God did make it happen for a reason.”
In December 2018 Conner learned that her mother was in remission. Conner explains that the whole experience taught her many things.
“From that point on, I learned to step-up, to do a little extra even if I didn’t want to. I managed my days properly to fit in home life, maintain grades, & participate in after school activities. Most importantly treasure every day you have because you don’t realize how good you’ve got it,” Conner said. Conner and her mother’s experience, as well as many others, were honored in Zeta Tau Alpha’s (ZTA) Philanthropy Week. The week began on Oct. 8 and events were held on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
“ZTA partners with Bright Pink and the American Cancer Society. ZTA is also the National Survivor Ambassador of Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. All our proceeds goes towards those,” senior Megan Rutherford said.
When asked about her favorite part about ZTA’s philanthropy week, Rutherford said she loved seeing the support from other organizations and watching them learn as well. Rutherford explained that many of the male participants don’t know that men are at risk for breast cancer, and that this week is for men as well as women.
Tuesday, Oct. 8 was an 80’s themed event called “Mac ‘n Zs.” At this event participants could donate $2 in exchange for mac n cheese, and then sit at tables with informative packets on breast cancer.
Dr. Neeharika S. Makani spoke at the event, and she informed participants before she spoke with stats regarding the likelihood of breast cancer, causes of breast cancer, and factors that lower one’s chances of breast cancer.
According to Dr.Makani, people are more susceptible to breast cancer if they consume trans or saturated fats, processed meats, habitually drink alcohol or smoke, fail to exercise regularly, experience high stress, or don’t sleep enough.
Family history also increases the likelihood of breast cancer, but Dr. Makani explains that this contributes to a common misconception about breast cancer.
“We know that only 5-10 percent of breast cancers run in [the] family and that [the] majority of patients with breast cancer do not have any family history of cancer,” said Dr. Makani.
A Doctor’s Advice
Dr. Makani also had a model of three breasts: one example of a cancer-free breast, one with a noncancerous lump, and one with a cancerous lump. She demonstrated how to correctly do a breast exam and encouraged people to familiarize themselves with the nuances of the test.
Wednesday, Oct. 9 was Zumba with the Zetas, and Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019 was the Lip Sync Battle, in which organizations could pay to participate. The groups that participated in the battle lip synced to 80’s songs. Pi Kappa Phi danced along to a mashup of multiple songs, one of the songs being “You’re the One That I Want”. At one point, “Sandy” puts her foot on “Danny’s” chest and sings “You better shape up” as the other guys snapped along.
Another group did a passionate recreation of the final dance scene in Dirty Dancing. The faux-Patrick Swayze jumped off the stage into the center aisle, and encouraged “Baby” to do the iconic leap into his arms.
At the lip sync battle, participants could write notes to breast cancer patients, and organizations could participate in “penny wars.” The organization who donates the most gets points. Organizations collect these points throughout the week, and the group with the most points wins the week overall. This year it was Lambda Chi Alpha.
The packets and flyers distributed at the Mac ‘n Zs event had information that said Breast Cancer usually occurs in women ages 15 to 39 and there is approximately 12,770 new cases of invasive breast cancer for U.S. women, as well as 63, 410 cases of in situ breast cancer, what the American Cancer Society describes as “non-invasive or pre-invasive breast cancer.”
Another statistic from the packet said that around 80 percent of young women discover the breast abnormality that leads to their breast cancer diagnosis.
Conner’s mother fell in to this 80 percent, as she found a lump in her left breast herself two months after her annual mammogram.
“Breast cancer is a very real and prevalent thing,” Rutherford said. “1 in 8 women get breast cancer at least once in their lifetime. That will be one of us and the more we make men and women aware and educated, the more people can get treated early on,” says Megan.
Makani prompts people to decrease the chance of getting breast cancer by having a healthy diet with fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly, sleeping eight hours a day, avoiding alcohol and processed meats, and learning how to decrease cortisol levels in the body through coping mechanisms.
Take Nothing for Granted
“Both my mom and I encourage everyone, young and old, men and women to do self checks monthly and have yearly visits to the doctor,” Conner said.
Conner also encourages people to educate themselves on their family’s health history. Conner’s mother’s diagnosis prompted her mother’s siblings to get tested. This led to the discovery that their family has a BRCA 2 gene. This is what the National Cancer Institute describes as a mutation that increases the likelihood of female ovarian and breast cancer as well as other types of cancer. Overall, her mother’s experience shed light on her family’s health history.
“We no longer take any minute, any hour, any day for granted,” Conner said about how her mother’s experience changed her perspective. “Live every day like it’s your last.”