– By Robin Carney, Vice President-Brand Communications, SIWA

1 in 8 women will receive a breast cancer diagnosis in her lifetime, and my mother was one of those women. I watched her go through the horrific side effects of chemotherapy, barely able to keep food down, losing her hair and generally feeling too weak to do much of anything besides attend her treatments. But her disease was diagnosed early and she was one of the lucky ones who survived breast cancer. Nearly 20 years later, she recently led me and my daughters on a journey to her father’s birthplace in Ambon, Indonesia, where she also lived as a child. We are so fortunate to have her with us, and cancer-free, but not all families are so lucky. Too many mothers, daughters and sisters have been lost to breast cancer.

After my mother came through her cancer treatment, I was living in Portugal and had recently left the corporate world to raise my young children. I was looking for way to use my brain and engage with other adults outside the playgroup, when I came upon an amazing charity founded by expat women in the Lisbon area who had lost a friend to breast cancer. They hosted one lunch to raise money for breast cancer awareness after her death, and it was so successful that they formalized the effort into a non-profit organization called “Laço,” which means “ribbon” or “tie” in Portuguese.

This charity quickly filled the void in my life as I dove in and devoted my time to many amazing projects. We recruited local Portuguese celebrities to promote the “Fashion Targets Breast Cancer” campaign in Portugal, sponsored by a local retailer who designed, produced and sold a beautiful collection of clothes to benefit Laço. Another rewarding campaign was sponsored by the Portuguese recycling authority; they made a donation to Laço for every kilogram of waste recycled. How wonderful to encourage recycling and fight breast cancer at the same time!

Laço raised over €1M for breast cancer prevention and treatment in Portugal, funding several mobile mammography trucks that were deployed to serve women in rural areas with little access to preventative care. Never had my career as a Management Consultant felt this rewarding! I was making a difference and saving some families from the pain of losing a loved one to breast cancer. I also had the privilege of attending the Europa Donna annual conference in Stockholm and meeting other delegates from all over Europe who were fighting for the same cause in their own countries.

When our family moved to Belgium due to my husband’s job, I sadly had to leave my Laço family behind. But I had developed a solid base of knowledge about breast cancer and was determined to continue to work for this cause. I soon found the Breast International Group (BIG), a research network headquartered in Brussels that coordinated international clinical trials involving scientists in over 50 countries, all to prevent, treat or cure breast cancer. BIG was planning to launch a fundraising unit to raise the needed funds for its academic trials (which would not benefit any drug companies and hence required private funding). They hired me to develop and launch this new department, and once again, I devoted myself to the fight against breast cancer.

Over the course of my 3 years with BIG, I had the pleasure of meeting some of the top breast cancer researchers in the world, and always came away inspired that so much progress is being made. Even more inspirational is that this work occurs across borders, with the brightest minds coming together to work together on projects of international collaboration that sometimes spanned 15 countries or more. BIG recently contributed to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that helps determine when it is safe for a woman with breast cancer to skip chemotherapy. I cannot express how rewarding it feels to have worked for an organization that may spare some women the severe effects of chemotherapy, which my mother went through!

Now in Korea, and having joined the SIWA Board, I’m proud to bring my experience with breast cancer to this women’s organization. This issue so clearly resonates with our members, who may already know someone, perhaps in their own families, who has been touched by breast cancer. I will be wearing pink at SIWA’s October coffee morning, which will be dedicated to Breast Cancer Awareness. 

I hope that SIWA members will “think pink” and show their support for this important cause! Let’s make breast cancer history.

[Republished from original post in October 2017, with edits]