At age 24, Donna Bruck of Monroe, Michigan was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), the diagnosis behind about 80% of all breast cancers. Prior to this discovery, Bruck's grandfather survived breast cancer -- and a year after Brucks's chemo ended, her mother received the same diagnosis.
And while Bruck said she is proud to be from a family of survivors, experts emphasize that learning your family's health history can help you and your doctor formulate a health plan.
For this young woman, that plan included six surgeries for mastectomy, port placement/removal, breast reconstruction and five months of chemotherapy, which caused her to lose her trademark long blonde hair.
What Bruck didn't lose however, was her loving disposition and her spirit. At a time in her life when she could have said "why me?," Bruck asked: "How can I help others?" She began to help by speaking at every opportunity, sharing her story of young diagnosis with hopes that more women will conduct breast self-exams and get mammograms.
Her story starts when she found a three-centimeter tumor during a breast self-exam, a practice that many young women apparently disregard. "[Skipping self-exams] can possibly lower the chance of survival," notes Dr Cheryl Perkins, Komen Foundation senior clinical advisor. Health care providers caution it is vitally important for all women to become familiar with how their breasts look and feel through monthly breast self examinations beginning no later than age 20.
In fact, this year alone, more than 11,000 women ages 15-40 will be diagnosed with this disease. With one in seven American women at risk of developing breast cancer in her lifetime, it is never too early to establish good breast health practices. Young women's cancers are generally more aggressive, making early detection extremely important. That's a point Bruck tries to drive home during her presentations.
With her hair only one inch long, Bruck's smiling face could be seen in local public service announcements under the heading: You Don't Have to be Over 40 to Have Breast Cancer. She has also served as the 2004 keynote speaker at the Monroe Cancer Connections' "Cup of Tea for Hope" fundraiser and shared her "Cancer Scrap Book," a collection of cards and letters, photographs and medical paperwork detailing her journey. To further spread the message, this dynamic lady has spoken at schools, churches, cancer fundraisers, youth centers, VFW halls — and even the local cable station.
In between speaking engagements, Donna Bruck has driven more than 2,300 miles in 2006 transporting patients to doctors appointments and chemotherapy treatment as a way to connect with people in need. She remains with patients while they are injected with their chemotherapy regimens to offer them serenity and encouragement. Bruck also meets, comforts and mentors many women as they start their journey through breast cancer. She makes phone calls and often visits them in person at their homes, sharing a personal photo diary of her reconstruction surgeries.
In addition to speaking and mentoring, she was the driving force behind her family's American Cancer Society Relay for Life team, Fight Like a Girl -- Fight For A Cure! Along with her sister, her team's co-captain, Bruck participates in fundraising activities year-round. The team raised more than $3,000 in its first year alone.
Breast cancer didn't mean the end of a future for this one woman. In fact, it was just the opposite — the disease opened up a whole new world to Bruck and countless others around the country.