Raising awareness

GVL/Kevin Sielaff
After a series of discussions, the group took part in a few rounds of Zumba at Zumba for a Cure, which took place this past Tuesday in Kirkoffs Pere Marquette room.

GVL/Kevin Sielaff After a series of discussions, the group took part in a few rounds of Zumba at Zumba for a Cure, which took place this past Tuesday in Kirkoff’s Pere Marquette room.

Allison Ribick

BRCAn’t Stop Me is a student organization at Grand Valley State University focused on raising awareness of hereditary cancers and supporting those affected. It is the only college organization in the nation to focus on these hereditary cancers.

Mollie Smith, a senior at GVSU, founded the organization two years ago after finding out she had a gene mutation in the BRCA gene, or breast cancer gene. Women with this mutation are 60 to 80 percent more likely to develop breast cancer, as well as having a higher risk for other cancers.

“It was a scary thing to know, and I felt really alone,” Smith said.

Smith wanted to create a space where people who are BRCA positive and who have family members affected by breast cancer or other hereditary cancers can support each other and swap resources and advice regarding things like genetic testing, early detection and prevention techniques.

“One out of ten cases of breast cancer is caused from a genetic mutation,” Smith said. “I think that’s insane that a lot of people don’t know about that because that’s a lot of people on campus that may have a genetic mutation and don’t even know that they have it.

“It’s actually a blessing in disguise to have this knowledge because you’re able to detect the cancer early so that you can save your life. I’m glad that I have that information. It’s really changed my life and made me make healthier decisions and live a healthier lifestyle.”

Bailee Orman, a senior at GVSU and risk management officer for BRCAn’t Stop Me, found the organization shortly after she learned she was BRCA positive.

“Cancer not only affects all of us, but it affects everyone around us, too,” Orman said. “I think it’s really important to realize whether or not a specific cancer in your family is hereditary.”

The Michigan Department of Health has contacted BRCAn’t Stop Me and expressed its interest in making the organization have a presence at colleges throughout the country and even in other parts of the world.

BRCAn’t Stop Me is in the process of making guidelines and suggestions for when other colleges can create an organization similar to theirs, Orman said.

In addition, most people are not aware of hereditary cancers other than breast cancer.

“That’s where I think this organization is really good because, yes, we focus mostly on breast cancer, prostate cancer and ovarian cancer, but we’re trying to focus on all hereditary cancers,” Orman said.

The students will host the Genetic Counselor Seminar on Feb. 19 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in Room 2266 of the Kirkhof Center.

Genetic counselors from Spectrum Health will inform guests not only about the BRCA mutation, but on other genetic cancers, family histories of cancer, testing and preventative measures. The event is LIB 100 approved.

The organization’s biggest event is “Zumba for a Cure,” put on every April with the help of Phi Mu and Delta Upsilon to spread awareness of the BRCA gene mutation and to raise money for hereditary cancer research.

The first half of the event involves numerous guest speakers telling their stories and the second half consists of participants dancing along to Zumba.

Kelly Roth, a guest speaker from last year, will return to speak about how her decision to have a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy has affected her life. Roth has the BRCA mutation and had her surgery when she was 20, making her the youngest woman to do so.

“Zumba for a Cure” will occur on April 1 from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. in Pere Marquette of the Kirkhof Center.

“The whole goal of this organization is prevention and early detection, so if we can inform young adults about gene mutation, then they have a better chance at saving their lives in the long run,” Smith said.

BRCAn’t Stop Me hosts other fundraisers and events on GVSU’s campus to raise awareness, especially during September and October.

In September, BRCAn’t Stop Me partners with the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance in order to spread awareness of ovarian cancer. They turned the Women’s Center at GVSU teal through placing teal ribbons and decorations.

In October, the organization puts on a pink and blue pumpkin sale to raise awareness for men and women battling breast cancer. “Swing in Pink and Move to the Beat” encouraged participants to wear pink while they swing danced and exercised. They also provided pamphlets with information on annual self-checkups for breast cancer.

The group has also received recognition through filmmaker Alan Blassberg’s documentary “Pink and Blue.” The documentary centers on what the BRCA gene mutation is and how it affects both men and women’s risk for developing various cancers.

BRCAn’t Stop Me meets in Room 2259 of the Kirkhof Center at 9:15 p.m. every other Thursday.