One night a couple years ago Angelique Pitney -- actor, mother, charitable force -- sat at her computer. It was late, very late. She was up doing a lot of thinking, as she had been frequently since she was diagnosed with breast cancer. As many of us do when we are thinking, curious, bored, she started to search things on the internet. Eventually she came across a website, adorned with pink graphics and a picture of a woman -- Mary Ann Wasil. From that moment on, the Get in Touch Foundation would be an integral part of Angelique's life.
As so many 21st century relationships do, Angelique and Mary Ann became friends over the internet. They would talk frequently, growing closer and closer before even meeting each other. But, they had two important things in common: they were both fighting breast cancer, and the both wanted to make sure that their daughters (and girls like their daughters) would never have to live that fight.
Well before this fateful friendship began, Angelique was in the shower at her Southern California home and found a lump on her breast. The moment, she said, came with a lot of cursing. But then, she gathered the anger and went to the doctor. For Angelique, as for so many women (including Get in Touch founder Mary Ann Wasil) most of her preliminary tests came back negative. But, she knew that something was wrong. In this stage of her diagnosis, Angelique learned a valuable lesson -- "Keep asking questions until you get the answer right."
Years down the road, after a double mastectomy and having watched her daughter grow into a teenager, the fight felt ever more real for Angelique. She has taken the reigns and fought for the Get in Touch program to start entering schools on a very grass roots level. She's gone to nurses at many schools in her area and taught the classes herself -- spreading the impact this organization has had while educating girls like her daughter on breast health and breast self-exams.
One afternoon Angelique's daughter came back from school and she had just learned about breast exams in health class. Her daughter's assessment -- "I could have taught it better, Mom." Kindly waiting until her daughter was out of that school as to not cause the inevitable embarrassment for any teenage girl, Angelique went in and taught the breast health awareness part of the health class herself. It is this sort of attitude which makes people like me, young people looking for a way into helping for the greater good, understand how that can be possible. That if there is a fight to be fought, a lesson to be taught, you just have to do it.
Angelique has spent years fighting and teaching for a cause she believes in. She notes the importance of not only this education though, that everything is connected in our bodies. That for her, a positive diagnosis was a huge call to understanding the importance of diet, exercise and most importantly, awareness of all things body-related. It just made me think of all of the information poured onto us day in and day out about health. This stuff is important to listen to.
Get in Touch has reached worldwide to over 80 countries through the free educational program and their smart phone app. These foreign countries, many of them undeveloped, are so excited about having the education to spread as far and wide as they can. Many of us have the resources to live healthy and wise that some others around the world don't. If we can lead by example we are taking a huge step towards not only breast health awareness, but also towards setting precedence for how we should treat ourselves as individuals.
For so many women affected by breast cancer, like Angelique, it all comes back to daughters. The next generation. The group of young women, like myself, who have a whole other world of resources and therefore hopefully a whole other world of hope to live cancer free. For some though, the fight begins early. Now, more than ever, younger women are getting diagnosed positively for breast cancer. It is no longer a disease of post-menopausal women. Further, for some daughters who have seen their mothers or grandmothers struggle through the disease, the fight starts before the diagnosis. If it runs in their families, young women can now test to see if they carry a gene making them more susceptible to breast cancer. If tested positive this leaves them (some as early as in their twenties) with a choice. A choice to have a preventative double mastectomy or to wait it out.
Angelique said there is not one day in her life she regrets having her double mastectomy. She only had cancer in one side, but is thankful she did both. However, she recognizes her choice, compared to some, was easy. "At least I'm at this point in my life where everything is solid around me," she said, referring to her husband, her children, the life she's made. For younger people there are considerations to be made -- breastfeeding, romantic relationships and just the plain struggle of being in your twenties alone which doesn't lend itself very well to such intense decisions.
But, for those of us fortunate enough to avoid that choice, we are not allowed to be lazy and take anything for granted. Just as it did for Mary Ann Wasil before she started Get in Touch, and just as it did for Angelique Pitney before she became involved, breast self-exam is an important lesson for women of all ages to know. Angelique told a story to me about when she was deciding whether or not to give her daughter a pacifier when she was a baby. She decided against it, to let her daughter suck on her fingers because, as she put it, "hands are always available." When we are in bed, when we are in the shower, when we are doing anything in our life, our hands are there and our bodies are there. So we have to remember to reach down, grab a little boob and give ourselves an exam. It's our responsibility and our gift as knowledgeable women.
The Get in Touch Foundation has it's first LA Pretty in Pink Luncheon on Sunday March 16th in Santa Monica. Tickets and more information are available at http://getintouchfoundation.org/events/pretty-in-pink-2/la-pretty-pink-event/
To learn more about Get in Touch or to bring the free program to your school, visit their website http://getintouchfoundation.org, visit their Facebook page, or follow them on twitter @GetInTouch.