Like Ida Washington, study participant Laurie Havas, also 52, had no idea as a child that she was part of a multigenerational research project that her mother had joined before her birth. Laurie’s mother died of pancreatic cancer when Laurie was 21. Laurie does not know why her mother joined the study, but when she got a letter in the mail some years later, asking her to participate in a follow-up, she knew it was something she had to do.
“I am doing it for myself and my mother. I am continuing her legacy. It makes me feel closer to her,” she said.
Havas, who lives in Pleasant Hill, Calif., has two children, a 17-year-old son and a 20-year-old daughter. Her daughter has so far declined to participate as an adult in the study, but Havas hopes that some day she will change her mind.
Both Havas and Ida Washington feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves: They are partners in a quest to find answers for the causes of breast cancer and other diseases. Cohn is trying to ensure the project's funding, reliant on federal grants, continues long into the future, although nothing is guaranteed.
Like most people, Ida Washington hopes one day for a cure for breast cancer. And while she realizes she may never know why her mother developed the disease nearly 40 years ago, she understands that the cure and the cause are inextricably linked. “How can we begin to find a cure if we don’t first know the cause?” she asked.
Nobody knows exactly how many years, months and days it will take to answer those questions, or if those answers will ever be available to help any of the women now in the study who may develop breast cancer in their lifetime.
But the legacy of these women will live on, with their blood and tissue samples providing clues that will endure long after they die.
Havas, for one, has her sights trained on the future. “The things going into my body when I was pregnant with my daughter, the things going into my daughter’s body, the more we can grasp, the more we can affect the future.”
“The future,” she said, “is now.”
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This article originally ran at Environmental Health News, a news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.