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Alejandra Campoverdi Talks About Overcoming Breast Cancer And Helping Other Women In This Fight

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Alejandra Campoverdi Talks About Overcoming Breast Cancer And Helping Other Women In This Fight
Alejandra Campoverdi Talks About Overcoming Breast Cancer And Helping Other Women In This Fight

Video: Alejandra Campoverdi Talks About Overcoming Breast Cancer And Helping Other Women In This Fight

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Video: After generations of cancer in her family, Alejandra Campoverdi elects double mastectomy 2023, February

What would you do if you found out that you have breast cancer in your genes?

What if you have more than one family member who has already died of this disease?

Would you take preventive measures?

What would you do if you know that a preventive double mastectomy would dramatically reduce your chance of developing breast cancer to just 3 percent?

These are questions Alejandra Campoverdi had to face when she discovered that she had the BRCA2 gene mutation, which increased her risk of developing breast cancer by 85 percent.

The former White House employee, who worked for the President Barack Obama administration, had to assess all of these factors before making an important decision about her health. After going through this odyssey, she has founded breakthrough initiatives to raise awareness of hereditary cancer and help women of color - and particularly the Latino community - feel empowered and take action on their health.

Campoverdi asks these women another important question: What if you never find out that you have an 85 percent chance of developing breast cancer? Alejandra witnessed the devastating answer to that question.


A gene for breast cancer as genetic inheritance

Shortly after Alejandra Campoverdi was born, her great-grandmother died of breast cancer when she was in her 70s. Her maternal grandmother, María Luisa Medellín, whom she affectionately called 'Abi', was like a second mother to her. Abi took Alejandra to school as a child and was the matriarch of the family. Alejandra was 16 years old when Abi died of breast cancer in her 60s.

Campoverdi revealed to CHICA: “At first, Abi did not tell anyone about the mass found in her bosom because she did not have health insurance and did not want to be a charge for the family or that they had to pay their medical expenses out of their pockets. She grew up in Mexico and had a very different cultural perspective on doctors and our health system. When she finally plucked up the courage to see a doctor, it was too late and the cancer had spread throughout her body. She died just a few months later, which was devastating for our family."

The same pattern was repeated when Alejandra's mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 49. Alejandra, who was in her 20s then, recalls: "We thought a cancer diagnosis was an automatic death sentence because those had been our previous experiences." Fortunately, after undergoing chemotherapy and a lumpectomy, her mother overcame the disease. Two of Alejandra's aunts also struggled with breast cancer.

Recognizing that there was an inherited component to breast cancer recurrence in her family, Alejandra underwent a test to detect the BRCA gene mutation, which increases the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. When she tested positive and found out that she had an 85 percent risk of developing breast cancer, Alejandra took action.

“The older generations in my family lost their battles against breast cancer, the next generations overcame it but had a bitter experience due to problems with medical access and treatment. Now that I was the fourth generation in this battle, what could I do to make a positive difference? For me, the answer was A, undergoing preventive surgery to reduce my risk, but also B, doing everything in my power to create more awareness among Latinas about hereditary cancer and women's health. I know that my family's history is not unique.”

Alejandra underwent a preventive double mastectomy in October 2018, removing her two apparently healthy breasts and tells CHICA what happened after she surprised her:

“Six days after surgery, I received a call from my doctor. It is routine to examine the breast tissue that has been removed during a preventive double mastectomy to make sure that nothing was left undetected. It was a shock to learn that I had unknowingly already had 0 DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) breast cancer before I had the surgery. It took me completely by surprise because I had had a recent mammogram, a MRI of the breast and an ultrasound of the breast and they had all come back normal. It was a complete validation that I had made the right decision by being proactive about my health care. I beat breast cancer before I found out I had it."

Alejandra's experiences motivated her to launch an initiative to empower women of color to take care of their health and focus on healing. According to CHICA, there are three points that define her mission with the Well Woman Coalition, which she founded in the fall of 2018: arm yourself with information, make empowered decisions and save your life.

Your most recent initiative

His most recent project was inspired by alarming statistics. There is a lower rate of Hispanic women diagnosed with breast cancer than non-Hispanic white women diagnosed with the disease, but there is a higher death rate among Hispanic women for breast cancer. This is because Hispanic women are diagnosed later.

"We usually don't see Latinas reflected in national breast cancer awareness campaigns, that has to change," she says. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Latinas, and Latinas are more likely to be diagnosed in advanced stages.”

Last month, Campoverdi created the Latinx & BRCA campaign in conjunction with the Penn Medicine Basser Center. Latinx & BRCA is the first BRCA gene mutation awareness campaign targeting the Latino community specifically and offers information in Spanish, including videos and other educational materials.

The origin of its history

Alejandra Campoverdi's approach to helping her community is undoubtedly rooted in her culture. Her family migrated from Mexico shortly after she was born. She had an absent father and was raised by her mother and grandmother in a small apartment where up to eight other relatives sometimes lived. “Like many people, I grew up in a home where there was no access to medical care. During my childhood several times I had to depend on government assistance such as Medicaid to be able to see a doctor,”she told CHICA.

In high school Alejandra shone in style: she graduated with honors, was president of her class, and was crowned queen at the homecoming dance. She then graduated from the University of Southern California School of Communications and earned a Master's degree from Harvard. Upon graduation, Alejandra was recruited by the Obama administration in 2009, becoming the first White House director of Hispanic media. Since then, she has worked as a media executive at Univision and the LA Times.

While his success story seems like a fairy tale with a happy ending, his path was difficult. "I had to take many risks without having a safety net," he confesses. "In order to attend Harvard, I had to completely rely on student loans."

Jump into politics

In 2017, Alejandra ran for the United States Congress in California, motivated by the election of President Donald Trump and the possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). During her campaign, she spoke about the importance of access to health care for millions of Americans. Although she did not win, she would consider running again for political office. "If there is an opportunity in the future where I feel like I can make a positive difference, I would do it again," she confesses. “The more people apply that they don't come from the typical linear backgrounds, the better for everyone. We all benefit from having more diverse perspectives.”

Multiple surgeries

When she first spoke to CHICA in September 2018, she was recovering from one of her multiple surgeries. Although he had not yet tested positive for breast cancer, Campoverdi, 39, had begun the process of his preventive double mastectomy. Although she had waited several years since the damaging BRCA2 gene was detected in 2013 to undergo preventive surgery, when one of her aunts was diagnosed with breast cancer a week before Alejandra's surgery, she did not hesitate to undergo the process.

Share the history of your mastectomy

As part of his commitment to raising awareness, Campoverdi shared his experiences before and after his surgery on Instagram. He also shared his testimony with the LA Times and CHICA for this powerful reason: “When you face something like this, that feeling of facing the unknown can be very scary. Being able to relate to other people's experiences makes us feel less alone. I want to share this journey in a completely honest and real way, and in that process raise awareness of hereditary cancer. So I opened the curtain on my Instagram and have been able to connect with so many women around the world.”

Speaking to her after her surgery, she revealed that the first few days were tough. “I definitely had difficult nights when the vastness of the decision I had just made hit me, but I felt deep down inside that I was doing the right thing. I am grateful to have listened to my intuition.”

Not only did he physically prepare his body for this procedure, he also prepared himself spiritually. He visited his grandmother Abi's grave to listen to her advice. "I had the rosary that she had given me before she died of breast cancer and I sat there and spoke to her and asked her to accompany me, to be by my side during this journey and that gave me a lot of strength."

Time to heal

Campoverdi was also proactive in her healing stage. "I tried hyperbaric oxygen therapy, I drank celery juice every day and mega doses of vitamins and supplements to help me heal."

He couldn't believe the change in his body. “At first you feel quite restricted, you cannot raise your arms or carry anything that weighs more than five pounds. You cannot open the refrigerator door or a heavy door. You can't even bathe alone,”she recalls. You also feel exhausted. “Initially I was barely able to climb the stairs in my house, I didn't have the energy. Several weeks after the surgery my uncle and my cousin came to visit me, that was the first time that I went out to eat at a restaurant and I felt so drained when I returned home that I took a nap for four hours.”

Advice for other women considering similar surgery

Campoverdi emphasizes to other women who are considering having a double mastectomy: “No part of our bodies -including our breasts- defines our femininity. Our femininity is founded on our courage and resilience."

The morale

"If you have any reason to think that you have a higher risk of developing breast cancer, you have several family members who have battled this disease - or have fought other types of cancer such as the ovaries or pancreas - consider having a test genetics. What you do with that information is up to you, but knowing that result can influence your check-up decisions and your lifestyle. It puts you in front of the helm. When it comes to hereditary cancer - or women's health care in general - my message to Latinas is this: become the boss of your own body.”

Send Alejandra a message through wellwomancoalition.com to receive a 20 percent discount on a test to screen for the hereditary cancer gene.

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