Stories of hope

Anna Presser


As the daughter of a breast cancer survivor and the granddaughter of a breast cancer victim, Hanna shares her thoughts on how breast cancer has touched her life, and how the research we support will impact her generation.:

The Hope of a Thriving Generation

I never had the opportunity to meet my maternal grandmother, Jean Mehlhope McKarney, but she remains a powerful influence on my life to this day. Through her life and strength, I’ve learned a valuable lesson about the power of setting goals. Sadly, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in the early 1970’s, a time in which research and treatment options were extraordinarily limited. She passed away in 1986—nine years before I was born. At that time, breast cancer was thought of as a single disease, life expectancy for patients was relatively low, and the result of extensive radiation and chemotherapy was often poor quality of life for a patient during the short time that remained. My grandmother battled the disease for an almost unheard of 13 years—outliving her doctors’ expectations again and again by continually setting goals for herself and fighting to accomplish each of them. She fought through each painful and complicated treatment in order to see her children graduate from elementary school all the way up through college, to see them get married, and to meet her first two grandchildren. Her ability to set and accomplish these goals was one of her greatest legacies, alongside her courage, wit, and good humor.

As my mother learned to value these traits from her mother, her understanding of their importance was deeply enhanced when she was diagnosed with breast cancer only one short year after she lost her own mom to the disease. She was only 25 years old at the time. While there was more known about breast cancer in the late 1980’s than in the 1970’s, treatment options were still incredibly invasive. In my mom’s case, the doctors caught the cancer in its very early stages. She was “lucky” to have had the choice to “only” undergo a mastectomy in order to rid herself of the cancer completely and transition from patient to survivor. I have heard her mention on many occasions that she feels strange labeling herself as a survivor, since many women who were diagnosed around the same time she was had to undergo months of costly radiation and chemotherapy before finally being able to achieve “survivor-hood.” Instead, she often refers to herself as a poster child for early detection. She has spent many years promoting breast cancer awareness and encouraging others to get mammograms. Taking after her own mom, she has set many goals for herself. One of her goals has been to help find a cure, and she continues to do this by volunteering her time and resources to support the Vera Bradley Foundation. I will be 20 this year, and I know that my 25th birthday will arrive in the blink of an eye.

I can’t imagine how scared my mom must have been hearing that diagnosis at such a young age, especially after seeing her mother fight such a painful and difficult battle. However, I know that she held to the values her mom instilled in her to get through it all, as well as every other subsequent challenge life has handed her since then. My mom, in turn, has taught me the same values. It breaks my heart that I never got to meet my grandmother because of a horrific disease, but I feel I have been given a glimpse of this lovely woman.

At the same time, I feel extraordinarily fortunate that I live in a much different time than my grandmother did. According to the researchers at the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer Research Laboratories, we are at a revolutionary point in terms of fighting the disease. In the past, women like my grandmother had to endure treatments that were incredibly taxing—physically brutal, time consuming, and even financially devastating. Now, personalized medicine and the research we support is changing the face of breast cancer treatment. My grandmother, in her generation, was a victim of breast cancer. My mother, in her generation, fought to be a survivor. I represent a new generation—a surviving and thriving generation.

As a member of this surviving generation, I can set goals for my life and not fear that I won’t achieve them because of breast cancer, as my family has before me. I am currently a student at the University of Washington in Seattle planning to studying Speech Pathology. I am excited that I will be able to impact so many lives within that field. I plan to minor in Spanish and Comparative Religion, and will be traveling to Spain this summer to study the culture in hopes of becoming fluent in the language one day. Eventually I want to have a family of my own, and plan to pass on these values as my grandmother and mother did before me. I have a goal to never stop setting goals—I want to make the most of my life and believe that continually accomplishing new things is the best way to do that. Thanks to the research that each of us support, breast cancer will not prevent me from reaching this goal. In being able to fearlessly strive to achieve these dreams, I feel connected to my grandmother.

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