Patient Stories at John Stoddard Cancer Center | Empowered Sisters
UnityPoint Health - John Stoddard Cancer Center

EmPowered Sisters

For sisters Sarah Havick, 29, Kristin Glick, 28, and Nicole Stafford, 23, hearing that their mother was diagnosed with breast cancer became a call-to-action to take control of their risks for the disease.

After her diagnosis in 2008, their mother, Barbara Stafford, decided to be tested for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations to determine her condition's source. After learning she was positive for the gene mutation, she shared her findings with her daughters, encouraging them to have the same test performed. Their tests uncovered that all three young women carried the same genetic markers as their mother-leaving many unanswered questions and a cloud of uncertainty.

An Enlightening Answer

After receiving test results, the three sisters were introduced to EmPowered, a support program at John Stoddard Cancer Center. The support group focuses on women between ages 18 and 45 who are at a significantly higher risk for breast and ovarian cancer or who have tested positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutations.  The group provides the sisters with educational opportunities about health needs related to their increased cancer risk and answers questions about topics such as family planning, lifestyle changes and treatment options-pertinent answers for these three 20-somethings beginning to shape their lives. "EmPowered provides me with knowledge about breast and ovarian cancer and connects me with physicians who understand my concerns of being a woman with the BRCA genetic mutation," Kristin says. "The program is a great opportunity to meet other women who are going through the same feelings and experiences as my sisters and I."

When the educational sessions are over, the group finds time for fun social activities, such as scrapbooking, jewelry making, practicing yoga and watching movies-giving young women a chance to bond, share and support each other in an uplifting environment.

"This isn't your typical support group - EmPowered turns the support group concept on its head, incorporating fun activities to create a fresh atmosphere that is encouraging, energetic and positive," says Pati Berger, RN, BSN, oncology research coordinator at Stoddard. "The women in the group are really excited about connecting with others who are going through the same thing."

Looking at a Healthier Future

Berger suggests that educating young women about preventive measures is essential to overcoming future cases of cancer. "Early detection of breast and ovarian cancer plays a huge role in increasing a woman's chance of survival," Berger says. "Finding cancer before it spreads can also make a big difference in how much treatment is necessary, possibly reducing our need to perform radiation and chemotherapy."

After undergoing cancer treatment, Barbara is in her best health, setting an example for her three daughters who have mapped out new plans for a healthier future.

"Once my husband and I are done having children, I plan to have prophylactic double mastectomy and hysterectomy procedures," Sarah says. "EmPowered gives me the knowledge I need to be my own advocate. Knowledge is power, and that is exactly what the group was created for-to empower."