Fort Mill resident Kelly Kashmer is breaking the pink boundaries of breast cancer while helping women take a possibly lifesaving step.
Kashmer founded NothingPink, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of genetic testing and the risk of hereditary breast cancer last year after being diagnosed with Stage II Triple Negative breast cancer on Oct. 2, 2013, at 31 years old.
Kashmer did not have any symptoms or signs of the cancer, but due to family history, her doctor encouraged her to have the BRCA genetic test, which tests for the presence of BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. The test is often associated with actress Angelina Jolie, who had an elective radical mastectomy and breast reconstruction after testing showed she was at risk.
Since BRCA genes produce tumor suppressor proteins, having either mutation increases a woman’s risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers, Kashmer said. Women with abnormal BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have up to an 80 percent risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. The mutation also increases the risk for ovarian, thyroid, colon, pancreatic and skin cancers.
Kashmer had the test, but then put it out of her mind.
“I didn’t think much of it,” she said.
The test came back positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation and Kashmer began having blood work done every six months. However, when she went in for her baseline scan, the doctor found Kashmer already had cancer.
“My life from that point drastically changed,” she said.
Kashmer went through 10 months of chemotherapy and 11 surgeries. The mother to two daughters had her ovaries removed as a preventative measure.
Kashmer said it was a dark time in her life, which didn’t mesh with the typical breast cancer support messages. While she commends the pink T-shirts and races typically associated with a breast cancer fight, Kashmer said the happy color of pink does not describe how she felt.
“There’s nothing pink about breast cancer,” she said. “I was scared every day that I wasn’t going to see my kids graduate high school.”
NothingPink gives women a different support platform.
“I felt it was a way I could relate to how I handled going through it,” Kashmer said.
Kashmer said she will always have to deal with the lasting effects of cancer, an aspect she said many people don’t talk about.
“This will forever be my life,” she said. “It’s the raw piece of this, but it’s real.”
NothingPink focuses on helping women proactively combat the possibility of breast cancer by educating individuals and families on how to get screened and tested, Kashmer said.
“We need to get ahead of ‘pink,’” she said. “Having that test saved my life.”
NothingPink’s Hereditary Cancer Quiz helps women understand if they should get genetic testing, Kashmer said. Any type of family history of breast or ovarian cancer, as well as male breast cancer, can be red flags.
“If anyone is questioning if they need genetic testing, the answer is yes,” Kashmer said.
While it can cost thousands, genetic testing can be a lifesaver, she said. NothingPink also assists women who cannot afford the test but need it.
“You can’t put a price on that,” she said.
NothingPink aims to raise $100,000 before Sept. 1 to help provide genetic testing to more women. The organization is hosting a tea party fundraiser from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 9 at Baxter’s Village Hall.
“It’s a really good opportunity to begin a conversation about genetic testing, genetic mutations and what that looks like,” Kashmer said. “If there is one woman out there that I can help identify this before they go through what I had to, the mission is complete.”
Amanada Harris: email@example.com, @amanda_d_harris
Annual Tea Party Fundraiser
April 9 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Baxter’s Village Hall – 3387 Richard’s Crossing in Fort Mill
The event will feature a fashion show by KatyLoo Boutique and a silent auction. A genetic councilor will be on site. Tickets are $20.
More information and to purchase tickets: nothingpink.org/events/tea-party/