SUMMIT, NJ – When Kristin Wenger learned she had breast cancer, her first reaction was denial.
Wenger, vice president of Susan G. Komen North Jersey's board of trustees, didn’t come from a family with a history of cancer. She felt healthy. She felt breast cancer was something that happened to other people.
“When I was diagnosed in 2004, I was totally overwhelmed,” said Wenger “Not having been sick much of my life and to suddenly be diagnosed with cancer was shocking.”
Wenger’s initial reaction to noticing a lump in her breast was to pretend it was nothing. She said she waited a week before going to a doctor. And her reaction, when she was diagnosed, was, “Let’s get this out of my body,” she said.
Thinking back on those days, Wenger said she now realizes she didn’t know her options. A friend convinced her to contact someone at Komen North Jersey and, when she did, Wenger found a caring and knowledgeable voice, someone who provided her with guidance, choices and support, she said.
Wenger eventually chose surgery. She said she will never forget how grateful she felt when, upon her return home, she got a call from Komen. Her counselor wanted to check on her.
“She had no idea I was having surgery that day, it was so coincidental,” said Wenger, who still gets emotional when she recounts the story. “For someone to take the time to call me was ...” She was at a loss for words.
Wenger wanted to give back. She participated in Komen races, volunteered at its offices in Princeton and eventually joined the board.
In doing so, Wenger became an important part of the world’s largest breast cancer advocacy group and the largest non-profit funder of breast cancer research in the United States. The organization says it has invested more than $2.8 billion in research and community programs since 1982.
“The most important thing we can do … is education,” said Kelly Witkowski, who, in October became the executive director of Susan G. Komen North Jersey. “We want to reach out to our communities to let them know what Komen is doing, what resources are we offer and most importantly raise awareness of breast cancer and breast health.”
Since 1997, Komen North Jersey has invested more than $16 million in local community breast health programs in nine northern New Jersey counties and contributed more than $7 million in global research, said Witkowski.
Additionally, Komen North Jersey provides community health programs, grants and funds life-saving research, she said, noting that up to 75 percent of all money raised is spent locally. The balance supports Komen’s national research programs.
From its offices in Summit, Komen North Jersey serves Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, Union and Warren counties.
Its efforts provide hope and a way for people to stand up against a disease that, each year, kills about 425,000 women around the world and about 40,000 in the United States.
In the U.S., one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, according to Komen. It says there are 2.8 million women with a history of breast cancer and 85 percent of breast cancers occur in women with no family history of the disease.
Although their chance of contracting breast cancer is far less than it is for women, men are not immune, warns the organization. A man’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is about one in 1,000.
Despite all the attention, expanded screening programs and funding, breast cancer incidence and mortality have not changed significantly. Even with the increase in early detection the benefits have been marginal.
But breast cancer advocacy, such as that being provided by Susan G. Komen North Jersey, has helped change the breast cancer research agenda, drug approval processes, the health care system and legislation.
For more information on Komen North Jersey, please visit www.komennorthjersey.org.
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