NYU Abu Dhabi community members share personal stories about their experiences with breast cancer, and talk about why it’s important to continue the conversation all year long.
Three Generations Deep
“My story spans three generations and the last 47 years of my life. It started in 1972 when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.” — Wayne Young, Director of Wellness at NYUAD
Wayne Young’s mother passed away a year after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1974. She was 43 years old. The disease struck the family again in 1984 affecting Young’s only sister. Four years later, she too passed away at age 33. Then in 2007, his niece underwent a double mastectomy due to a harmful BRCA1 gene mutation.
It is no surprise that ever since then, Young has been involved in the fight against breast cancer and joins yearly efforts to raise awareness. “I became a vocal advocate across the US and at international breast health conferences in Budapest and Cairo,” Young said.
Recently, Young’s 29 year-old daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer after finding a lump in her breast. Several rounds of chemotherapy left her with hair loss and poor appetite, among other side effects. A double mastectomy was performed to remove all breast tissue and follow-up tests have shown no more cancer in her system.
When Young’s two other daughters tested positive for the BRCA1 genetic mutation, they started getting mammograms and MRIs as preventive measures.
"Education leads to early detection, and early detection leads to survival,” says Young. “In my daughter's case, it counted."
An Artist's Way to Channel Grief
Sofia Guevara, Class of 2022, shares how her mother channels energy from grief into artwork that promotes awareness about the disease.
Sofia Guevara’s grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 46 and passed away four months later.
Guevara admires how her mom did not let pain and the loss of losing her mother at such a young age define her. Instead, she decided to do something about it and became part of an exhibition in Cali, Colombia where different artists came together to create artworks around the topic of breast cancer.
In her art, Mrs. Guevara chose to represent the many qualities that women have: tenderness, love, passion, courage, strength, joy, fragility, while simultaneously emulating the emotional damage that the disease causes to the patient, family, and their community.
Ten years ago, Mrs. Guevara also started working for a medical mission in Colombia, where doctors from the United States offer free consultations and treatment to low income communities. The medical mission later became the Fundación para la Prevención del Cáncer” (Foundation for the Prevention and Treatment of Cancer). In addition to providing treatment, they contribute to raising awareness through educational sessions.
Being raised by a strong woman who supports others who've experienced similar loss is a powerful inspiration. It’s also the reason why the first-year student volunteered to lead the breast cancer awareness campaign at NYUAD.
“I firmly believe that we have the power to make positive changes and raising awareness is a big step towards achieving that," says Sofia Guevara.
Leading by Example
"My mother has beaten breast cancer twice in my life. Healthy and strong now, she continues to be a role model, not only for those who have been affected by the disease but for all people." — Sebastiano Pio Matera, Class of 2021
Sebastiano Pio Matera from the Class of 2021 recalls being in sixth grade when his mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer. "I didn't understand the gravity of the sentence, 'I have breast cancer,'" he says.
Matera's mother transitioned from stage 1 to stage 3A in only a matter of weeks.
"I was sad and knew that whatever this thing was, it was threatening my mother's life... I tried to be strong, being the only man in the household as my dad was working overseas."
Matera's mother taught him grace and elegance when faced with adversity. She eventually fought off the disease and later raised money and awareness for breast cancer by running the New York City Marathon.
For four years, she was cancer free. When the disease returned again, Matera was at the end of his studies in high school. This time, he fully understood the effects of the diagnosis.
But just like the first time, Matera's mother took full control and fought again, assuring everyone that nothing could pull her away from her family.
Matera is committed to the cause, having participated in Pink Runs, organized events such as the Pink Fitness Games, and even colored his hair pink during the month of October.
"I want everyone to see the color that represents people worldwide who have fought and are fighting this disease, inspiring us to be strong. I do what I do for my mother, but also for all those affected by the disease. I couldn't have asked for a greater mother, friend, or role model," said Matera.
Looking back, Matera did wish he had someone to confide in when he was younger and going through the experience. So for those who are impacted by this disease, Matera has a message for you. "If you ever need someone to talk to, or to support you, I'd love to be that person."
Advice from a Mother
"Girls should be taught (self checks) in school. After 30 (years old), all women should be doing self-checks and... doing mammograms. If a lump is found early on, it’s easy to control." — Mona Abu Baker, mother of Tala Hammash, NYUAD Community Outreach Specialist
"My mom is the bravest and most lovingly fierce person I know in general, but her approach to health, specifically breast health, is particularly inspiring - especially for my anxious self," says Tala Hammash, Community Outreach Specialist at NYUAD.
Hammash's mother, Mona Abu Baker, has had lumps surgically removed from her breasts on two separate occasions, five years apart. She was 40 years old when she first found a lump during her annual mammogram.
When Hammash was in university, a second lump was discovered. A biopsy showed malignant cells, and so arrangements were made to have them surgically removed.
It's been seven years, and Baker is more diligent in preventive measures. Besides the annual mammogram, she has learned to do self-checks. She believes self-checks are important and there should be a culture built around it.
"Girls should be taught (self-checks) in school. After 30 (years old), all women should be doing self-checks and... doing mammograms. If a lump is found early on, it’s easy to control," Baker said.
"The mammogram is not only for her. It is also for the people who love her," Baker added.