By Karuna Jaggar, Executive Director
In March, I came back to work after being out on medical leave for cancer treatment. I am returning with a renewed commitment to the work and mission of Breast Cancer Action. I’m more inspired than ever by the dedicated and passionate people who combine their talents, creativity, grit, and vision to make a meaningful difference in addressing and ending the breast cancer epidemic.
As I return to the helm of this incredible organization, I am particularly grateful for the tireless efforts of the staff, along with the support of our amazing Board, which has given me the time I needed to focus on treatment and healing. It is truly a privilege and an honor to lead this organization, alongside so many phenomenal people, doing this important work.
I spoke about my recent diagnosis at our annual Acting Out variety show last month and I wanted to share a shortened version with you here:
Even though breast cancer is the most common cancer for women in the U.S., I wasn’t diagnosed with breast cancer. Instead of the cancer popularly associated with pink, I was told I had an “exceedingly rare” primary vaginal cancer.
I have none of the handful of risk factors that have been identified with vaginal cancer. I don’t have HPV. I wasn’t exposed to the hormone DES as a fetus. I’ve never smoked. I don’t even drink very much. But I work in cancer. And I know all too well that one in three people will get cancer in their lifetime.
I was under no illusion that my “healthy lifestyle” made me somehow immune from cancer. So I did not wonder “why me” or what I might have done differently.
But I did worry about whether the cancer had spread. It hadn’t.
I worried about my prognosis. It’s good.
And I worried about the impacts of treatment, which I’m still experiencing—and will for the rest of my life.
Cancer did not make me wiser. It did not give me profound insights. And it didn’t make me a better person. But it did make me more committed than ever to my work at Breast Cancer Action.
Because Cancer Sucks! It sucks time, money, energy, health—and too many lives.
Breast Cancer Action’s work for health justice has always been part of a broad and powerful call for social justice on multiple fronts. Since the beginning, when Breast Cancer Action was founded 28 years ago, we have been an intersectional activist group, and have been influenced by—and also influential to—environmental justice, feminism, HIV/AIDS activism, racial justice, and so many other movements.
During the recent months that I was in cancer treatment, I gained new hope from all of the people across the country who are raising their voices to demand change. The #MeToo movement is pushing back on patriarchy and entrenched misogyny. #BlackLivesMatter continues to shine the spotlight on police violence and racism. The #NeverAgain movement is changing the conversation about gun violence.
Breast Cancer Action’s work has never been more important than right now, with an administration that is devaluing women’s bodies, defunding federal agencies, and deregulating everything. There is a lot of work to be done. Work that matters for the millions of people who are diagnosed with breast cancer. Work that cannot be separated from the larger push for social justice. Work that is bigger than any one of us and is successful when we join together.
Women’s bodies and women’s health have always been about social justice. And I can assure you, we are in this for the long haul—until lives and communities aren’t threatened by breast cancer.
Thank you for being part of the cancer resistance!