Balca Korkut Gok came to the US nearly 16 years ago for grad school. She proceeded to get married, earn another degree and start her career in Boston. The decision is what she now calls a secret blessing because at 36 years old, in March of 2022, she was diagnosed with stage 3, invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer. Living in Boston, she had the “very first world problem” of choosing between MGH and Dana Farber for treatment. Ultimately, she went to MGH for chemo, a double mastectomy and radiation.
Of her time in treatment, she notes, “like with everything in life, it takes a village.” Given that Balca’s entire extended support system lived overseas, she had to make the excruciating phone call to her parents to break the news: “it was the hardest phone call I have ever had to make- to tell my parents who were thousands of miles away that I had cancer.” Ultimately, her parents made the sacrifice in their lives to move to Boston while Balca was in treatment. Their support was paramount, as Balca had a three year old at home and still had a full time job during portions of her treatment.
Having completed treatment in November, Balca has had some time to reflect: “I don’t think breast cancer defined me, but it gave me a different perspective in life. I catch myself many times and pause and realize none of what I am worried about actually matters.” Indeed, things that a year ago would have kept her up at night, no longer hold so much weight. At the heart of this journey she realizes “not everyone gets a second chance in life and I know I did, so I want to make the most of that.”
Balca’s advice after her breast cancer journey doesn’t just extend to those diagnosed. She pleads, “listen to your body. If something feels off, it usually is. No one will advocate for you if you don’t advocate for yourself. Go to the doctor- do NOT miss your annual screenings.” She reminds people that she found her lump just weeks after a healthy annual physical: “if I had waited for my next annual, my story could have been very different.”