Two weeks before her 25th birthday, Emily Crandall found out she had breast cancer.
The diagnosis wasn't a total surprise. The south Charlotte woman had lost her mother and grandmother to the disease. With that family history, Crandall was tested for the BRCA-2 gene, which can raise the risk for relapse after initial treatment.
The test was positive. But Crandall, a volunteer with Susan G. Komen for the Cure in Charlotte, says she's one of the lucky ones.
Her cancer was caught early and treated quickly. One month after diagnosis, she opted for a double mastectomy and a series of reconstructive surgeries that lasted more than a year.
“I've never regretted my decision. I don't have to worry now,” Crandall says. “That one-month period (between diagnosis and mastectomy) was the hardest period of my life. But once the decision was made, I went into fighter mode and could concentrate on getting better.”
Crandall, 29, moved to south Charlotte two years ago from New Jersey. She began working with Komen's Charlotte affiliate to help other women be lucky ones.
“We don't want someone putting off getting a lump checked because of finances. A lot of times women will put their families first.”
In the past five years Komen has given $170 million in community grants to help fund education, screening and treatment plans nationwide. Seventy-five percent of funds raised in a community stay in the community, Crandall says. Twenty-five percent goes to the national organization for research for a cure.
Last year the Charlotte affiliate awarded $1.2 million locally. Crandall says the local group is on track to raise that again this year, despite the tough economy and thanks to the generosity of Charlotteans.
“Yes, times are tough, but breast cancer doesn't see that. It's more important than ever to get help to the women that need it,” Crandall says.
Even with name recognition and the support of a national network, the organization has had to get creative about getting the word out, using tools like Facebook and MySpace.
Next Saturday, Crandall will participate in her fifth Komen Race for the Cure; it's in uptown Charlotte and is expected to draw 13,000 people. Her first race was in New York City in 2004, the year she began her treatment.
“I was really emotional. It was so overwhelming with so many people, so many survivors.”