[00:00:00] Adam Walker: From Susan G Komen, this is Real Pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room.
During Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Susan G. Komen is encouraging Asian American women to prioritize their breast health and get regular screenings. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in Asian American and Pacific Islander women.
Although Asian American women in the U.S. have similar screening mammography rates as Black, white and Hispanic women, they have more delays in follow-up care after an abnormal mammogram than white women. Today’s guest, like many people, never imagined that receiving a breast cancer diagnosis was something that could happen to her.
Eating healthy and being aware of risk factors and overall health has always been a part of her lifestyle and she and even serves as the General Counsel of Susan G. Komen, with no breast cancer in her family history. Yet, in April 2021, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Here today to share her story and the importance of regular screenings and mammograms is Eunice Nakamura. Eunice, welcome to the show!
[00:01:13] Eunice Nakamura: Thanks Adam. Glad to be here.
[00:01:14] Adam Walker: I’m really glad to talk to you. So let’s dive in, let’s start with your breast cancer experience.
What type of breast cancer were you diagnosed with? And what did your treatment look like?
[00:01:26] Eunice Nakamura: So in April of last year, I was diagnosed with hormone positive HER2 negative stage two breast cancer. And so taking aside the staging, that’s the most common type of breast cancer. I believe 80 something percent of breast cancers are the type that I had.
My treatment consisted of I did what’s called neoadjuvant chemotherapy. So I did 16 rounds of chemotherapy before surgery. Then I had two lumpectomies and actually the first lumpectomy was successful. But certain hospitals look at margins and my margin wasn’t exactly, I guess it was on the borderline.
So my surgeon just wanted to go pull more tissue. So we did a second lumpectomy, which was clean. And then that was followed by 33 rounds of radiation, which I finished in March of last year. So about a year’s worth of treatment. And now I think I’ve been done with treatment for about seven, eight weeks at this point.
[00:02:25] Adam Walker: Wow. I So you just got done with treatment. I’m curious, like how does that feel?
[00:02:31] Eunice Nakamura: It feels great. It’s good to be done, but I think like many women who’ve gone through this, I think once you’re diagnosed and have gone through what I’ve gone through, you never really are done because, obviously, we’re always monitoring, making sure that there is not recurrence. Or your doctors are constantly monitoring you.
So I’ll be going in twice a year going forward for screenings and mammograms, just to make sure.
[00:02:59] Adam Walker: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. So then that was your breast cancer journey. So how did you originally know something was wrong and what was that process like?
[00:03:09] Eunice Nakamura: Yeah. I actually had no idea that I had cancer until I was getting dressed one day and I actually just happened to feel a slight lump while I was getting dressed.
And even then it wasn’t an obvious lump. My husband and I both, we were like, oh, I don’t know what this is. Let’s just go get it checked out. So that day I called my primary care doctor and she told me to come in. She even thought that it probably wasn’t cancer. But you just never know. Let’s go get you screened.
And then I went in the next day or two got my ultrasound, my mammogram, and then turned out it was cancer. And then it was a quick kind of process from there with biopsies and schedules of doctor appointment after doctor appointment. So that’s how I found out.
[00:03:59] Adam Walker: Wow, and so I know all this is very fresh in your memory. And I know also that you were working at Komen when you found out about this. You’re working in the breast cancer space every single day.
So I’m just curious what were the emotions like when you received that diagnosis? And sort of the followup from that?
[00:04:18] Eunice Nakamura: Yeah. I whether or not I was working at Komen obviously just the diagnosis itself. I’m sure I went through all of the stages that a lot of women go through. Just in terms of shock, disbelief things like that.
And then once I was able to digest the information probably within several weeks and after I had gotten my full diagnosis and put together a treatment plan. Then it was one of in a strange way, thankfulness that I happened to be at Komen, right? If I’m going to go through this journey how,
what are the chances that I’m going to be working at one of the world’s leading breast cancer charities during my own journey and having the support system that I did? And as many people know my boss, who’s the CEO of Komen, she’s also a breast cancer survivor. My assistant, she’s also a breast cancer survivor.
And we I’m surrounded by people that are either survivors or have been touched by breast cancer, which is why they work at Komen. So I just had the biggest support system. And our scientific advisory team, they are the brightest minds in breast cancer. So to have that resource, to have a sounding board just to get second opinions from about my treatment team.
It was one of gratitude, frankly, once I was able to go through the emotion of disbelief and shock and all of that it was actually one of gratefulness and gratitude.
[00:05:46] Adam Walker: Wow. Yeah. I can imagine the level of empathy, the level of support, and just raising you up at a place like Komen would just be just unbelievable.
So I’m glad that part of your experience was at least like a good one. And so I understand, I think I mentioned this in the intro, that you do not have a family history of breast cancer, and so I think, I guess, that made it even more of a surprise? Is that right?
[00:06:12] Eunice Nakamura: Yeah, completely. I do have a family history of liver cancer. So we’ve always been very vigilant about liver cancer but no history of breast cancer
and in fact, when I got diagnosed, I did the genetic testing. I don’t have any genes. I don’t have BRCA or any other genes related to breast cancer. So it was a complete surprise and I would say we were blindsided that, if anything it would have been a different type of cancer. But certainly not breast cancer was anything that we would foresee.
[00:06:41] Adam Walker: Yeah. Wow. So let’s talk a little bit more about your family. I understand that your parents immigrated to the US from South Korea. Talk to me about growing up in that culture. Was disease and sickness, something that you talked about in your family, something you were open about? Or was it really not discussed?
[00:06:58] Eunice Nakamura: Yeah. So like I said, we had liver cancer in my family, so we talked about it openly. It was my maternal aunt. So my mom’s sister who died of liver cancer. So we would talk about being careful and making sure we discuss that with our doctors, just in the family. But also in my culture, my background, Koreans are very into wellbeing eating healthy our food is generally very healthy.
Exercise is a very regular part of just the culture. So we didn’t have anything in particular other than just culturally, eating healthy is just part of our everyday lives. So I wouldn’t say anything special, but I think it was common for us to prioritize health.
[00:07:49] Adam Walker: Yeah, that makes sense.
So related to that then. Even with being vigilant about knowing your risks and about being as healthy as possible and about preventative wellness, you still got cancer. And why, so why is that particular detail important from your perspective for us to share?
[00:08:10] Eunice Nakamura: Yeah, I think my story is: no matter what, what risks you do know about your family and the healthy life choices that you make, even still breast cancer can happen to anyone. And I would encourage everyone to be even more vigilant about getting breast cancer screens being diligent and regular with your breast cancer screenings.
Because as we all know, early detection is key when it comes to breast cancer. So don’t put off your annual mammograms because you don’t have a family history. And as I’ve gone through my own journey and my own diagnosis, I talk with a lot of my girlfriends who have now since, because of me, gotten screenings.
And since, have found out they have the BRCA gene or a different gene that would put them at a greater risk for breast cancer and so they’re now taking measures to do what they can to prevent breast cancer. No matter how healthy you are, right? And no matter the healthy lifestyle choices that you make, and the known risks that you have, or don’t have, don’t put away or put off the opportunities to get through regular screenings.
It’s just even more crucial, no matter what your lifestyle is.
[00:09:27] Adam Walker: So important, that’s so important. And so I also understand. I understand a lot. I feel like I’ve got all this intel on you. So I also understand that you have a young son. And I’m curious, like, how did you go about sharing this with him? And how open were you with him about what you were going through?
[00:09:47] Eunice Nakamura: Yeah, so obviously, like we talked about at the outset. I work at Komen and I worked at Komen even before I knew about my diagnosis. So my son having gone to Komen events, and he was very familiar, even at the age of seven, which is the age that he was when I got diagnosed with, was very aware of breast cancer because of my role at Susan G Komen.
So when it happened to me, and he also happens to be pretty astute for a seven year old, and I knew that there was no way that we would not be able to tell him with the treatment plan that I was faced with. So we were very open with him about. And it was hard. It was probably the hardest thing that we had to do was tell our seven year old son.
But the clinic actually gave us lots of pamphlets on how to tell your young child, and it was full circle because that was reading through some of the pamphlets and a lot of the material was from Susan G Komen. And the folks that gave me these pamphlets, they didn’t know I worked at Komen.
So it was really nice to see a lot of the work that our teams do. I was on the beneficiary side of it this time. So I got a lot of talking points on how to talk to your young child about it. There’s also a book called cancer or Cancer Hates Kisses. It’s a child’s book, but I think a lot of the parents share with their child.
So we actually got a copy of that and I think that was very reassuring to him, too. Even at a young age, I think knowledge is power and knowing takes away the fear factor. And that’s true for us too, knowing takes away the fear. So we told him what our treatment plan would be and that I was going to be okay. But now we would have to go through this treatment plan.
And so we were very open and honest with him about it. And even though it was hard, especially at the beginning, I think as he saw that we were executing on our treatment plan. And frankly, he also saw other people in his life during my journey also get diagnosed with breast cancer and go through the same thing.
And I think that actually helped, that this happens to a lot of people, but there are a lot of good treatments and advances in treatments that help people like mommy with breast cancer and they get better. So the more he saw it in his life, it actually helped him feel reassured that I was going to be okay.
[00:12:16] Adam Walker: That’s great. That’s great. As we talked about earlier, you’re just now out of treatment and so thinking back on your treatment and on this whole process, I know family’s a big support system for you. Were there any other ways that you’re able to cope with and just stay hopeful through the treatment process?
[00:12:38] Eunice Nakamura: A hundred percent it was my faith in God. Our family was one of deep faith and so not just me all the prayers and the leaning that we did on our faith. And like you said, obviously, family, but friends my support of friends. I think I joked that we never ate as well as we did while I was going on treatment because every day there was a meal delivered for us. And all of the goodie packages and just the cards and people checking in on you, that goes a long way.
So I think I would say my faith, family, friends, and then the support that we get. And talking to people that have gone through the same journey, recently, was very helpful. So I had a handful of people that went through the same journey, but also a handful of people that were going through it at the same time as me.
So all of those things were items and source of support that I leaned on.
[00:13:36] Adam Walker: Yeah, that’s great. That’s great. And so the last one, as as I mentioned earlier may is Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and we know that Asian American women have more delays in follow up care after an abnormal mammogram, as compared with white women, and so what final advice do you have for our listeners, particularly those of the AAPI community?
[00:13:59] Eunice Nakamura: Yeah, so I think within the AAPI community, there are lots of different community groups, right? So there’s east Asians, there are south Asians and there’s a lot of differences even within the AAPI community, including health inequities, disparities, and things like that.
But ultimately what binds all of us together, right? Is that no one is completely free of this risk. So it’s what I said at the beginning is please go get your mammograms and don’t ignore just because your particular family or your group, cultural group is low risk or high risk. It doesn’t matter.
That’s what I’m here to share. It doesn’t matter. Please go get your mammograms because, I am of what he would say low-risk, but it happened to me. It can happen to anyone and the earlier you catch it, the better our odds are and chances not of just being cured. But just overall, your treatment plan is less rigorous.
So I would say don’t be complacent about getting your mammograms just because of your cultural background or because of your family risk. It can happen to anyone.
[00:15:14] Adam Walker: Wow. Eunice, that was the perfect way to wrap up this show. Don’t be complacent because of your cultural background or your family background. Go get tested, go get checked, go through the right processes. It can make a huge difference in your life. Eunice, your story is amazing. Thank you for the work that you’re doing at Komen and the impact that you’re making and thank you for sharing your story with us and in creating impact in that way too.
[00:15:39] Eunice Nakamura: Thank you so much, Adam. I really appreciate it.
[00:15:45] Adam Walker: Thanks for listening to Real Pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen. For more episodes, visit RealPink.com. For more on breast cancer, visit Komen.org. Make sure to check out at Susan G Komen on social media. I’m your host, Adam; you can find me on Twitter @AJWalker or on my blog, AdamJWalker.com.