Natalie Breen’s story with breast cancer began with a woman she never knew. A woman her father barely knew. Natalie’s grandmother, Barbara Breen, was diagnosed with breast cancer in her 30s while she was raising 6 children. She passed away in her 40s, leaving behind her young children and a husband who, admittedly, felt overwhelmed and without support. “If Runway had existed [then] their lives would have ended up very differently.”
Natalie told us about the struggle her grandfather went through after his wife passed away. He couldn’t cope and “tried really hard to do what he could.”
Fast forward to 2021 when Natalie’s boyfriend forwarded her an Instagram post about Runway for Recovery. Natalie says “I felt so called to somehow get involved.” And yet, participating in Runway wasn’t totally straightforward for Natalie. She says “this year is the 50th anniversary of her [grandmother’s] passing so I felt funny signing up [for Runway] because I’m so far away from her.” The reality is, we’re all affected by breast cancer in one way or another and everyone’s stories matter. “I’m far away from her but she’s still my grandmother.”
What tipped the scales for Natalie was watching Runway’s Chief of Community, Kristina Coccoluto, and her sisters Vanessa and Stephanie Bramante. The sisters went on Instagram Live to discuss the importance of genetic testing as well as the whirlwind of emotions that accompanies the decision to learn about our family’s genetics.
For Natalie, “because I never knew much about my grandma, I just recently went through genetic testing and was negative for the BRCA mutation but still noted as high risk. Now I get annual MRIs, which is a very empowering thing. I am 28 now; I started at 26.”
Genetic testing is luckily common now but when Natalie’s father was growing up, it wasn’t. Since her father was only 6 years old when his mother passed away, conversations around breast cancer, risk, and genetics never really came up in his adolescence or in Natalie’s. “My dad would never talk to me about breast cancer. It would probably make him sad to even think about it.” Natalie has taken it upon herself to lead the charge on ensuring her generation learns their family history and the risk that accompanies that.
Natalie has several female cousins on her dad’s side – none of whom grew up being taught about their family risk – so for all intents and purposes, Natalie has become the ring leader. She has been encouraging her family members to learn about their bodies and their shared genetics to ensure that they are as informed as possible. “There’s an information gap; so it’s my job to make sure my cousins go and get tested.”
When asked how her dad and his siblings coped after their mother’s passing, Natalie says “They all ended up being ok but it was a very long road to get there and an organization like this that could have supported them would have been a game changer.”
We look forward to welcoming Natalie to the stage in October to watch her dance in honor and memory of her grandmother and celebrate Natalie taking the reins of her own health and future.