When Natalie Rivera was 19 years old, she learned she carried the BRCA1 genetic mutation. The news wasn’t a complete shock: both her grandmother and mother had breast cancer. Natalie was initially vigilant about screenings, but those screenings fell to the wayside when she became a busy medical resident.
“When I felt a mass on my breast, I sat on it because I was such a last priority to myself,” she said.
Her husband had recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and she had her 4-year-old daughter, Penelope, to care for – not to mention her work. When the mass began to grow, she sought care and was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer. She was 29 years old.
“At first I was angry,” she said. “In a split second my life changed.”
Over time, Natalie began to see her diagnosis in a new light.
“I realized I had a choice. I could either push against this or push towards it. I was diagnosed during my residency, but this has given me a unique perspective that will help me be a better doctor.”
As someone in the medical field, research is integral to everything Natalie does. She credits research with helping her understand her own breast cancer risk. She also sees the difference in treatment she’s receiving compared to her mother and grandmother.
“Back when they underwent treatment, it wasn’t the same,” she said. “Thanks to research, more women are living longer, healthier lives.”
Natalie believes her own experience—and research—will inform her daughter’s risk as well.
“Research is the reason my little girl may never hear the words, ‘You have breast cancer.’”