Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Joining the fight against breast cancer

Messenger photo by Linda Dillman
Scrapbookers at Red Letter Journals in Grove City spent 15 hours at a Scrappink breast cancer fund raiser on Sept. 26 benefitting Komen for the Cure and honoring cancer survivors like Porfiria Navarro, bottom, Martha Ortiz, center, and Kay Hessman, top. Navarro and Ortiz are mother and daughter and their battle with breast cancer was profiled in a story featured in the store’s front window.

Cancer is a devastating diagnosis and a Westside mother and daughter undergoing treatment at the same time want women to understand it is far better to know what is going on inside their bodies than exist in ignorance.

Martha Ortiz and her mother, Porfiria Navarro, who operates a food stand near Mt. Carmel West Hospital, were recently highlighted as a symbol of courage for women attending a breast cancer awareness fund raiser for Komen for the Cure at Red Letter Journals in Grove City on Sept. 26. Both women were diagnosed with the BRCA1 gene, a genetic marker that can trigger breast and ovarian cancer in women and can put men, who can also be gene carriers, at a greater risk for cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute, a woman’s risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer at an early age is greatly increased if she inherits a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation. Often multiple, close family members are also diagnosed with the disease.

Martha and Porfiria know too well the reality of living with the BRCA1 gene. An aunt was diagnosed at age 26 with breast cancer. A grandfather died of prostrate cancer. Out of six family members, four tested positive for the gene.

"Unfortunately for me and my mom, I discovered a lump in 2008," recalled Martha. "They said I was too young (26) for cancer, but in November, my mom and I tested positive for the gene. They sent me for a mammogram. My mom had yearly mammograms which always came out okay.

"They did a biopsy on the lump and discovered it was Stage I cancer. Right after that, they said I had a decision to make and I scheduled surgery for two weeks later. While my mom was taking care of me after surgery, she felt two lumps and on my follow-up visit, the surgeon scheduled her for a biopsy and discovered she had Stage II breast cancer that had moved to her lymph nodes.

"We both had cancer in the right breast and our surgeries were three weeks apart. A month later I started chemotherapy and my mother started hers two months later. We both had 16 sessions."

Martha and her husband have two daughters and wanted a son, but did not want to jeopardize her health since she was at risk for ovarian cancer, so Martha had a hysterectomy a month ago. She said women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 often are advised to have prophylactic breast and ovarian surgeries to reduce their chances of developing cancer.

"It doesn’t matter about race or color, cancer is everywhere," said Porfiria. "We have to be more educated about cancer. Latino women are very reserved about themselves and don’t like to share stories like this, but we want people to know about this gene. To get tested, if necessary.

"If our story helps at least one person, then we’ve helped. And for husbands out there with wives gong through this, they need to be supportive."

For more information about the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, visit

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