Mary Jo Kahn is no stranger to breast cancer. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 39 and died of it eight years later. In 1989, when Mary Jo was 39, she found her own breast cancer. While she was in the hospital undergoing a mastectomy, her sister, Judi Ellis, was diagnosed. She was 41. This led two more of their sisters to have prophylactic mastectomies in their mid-30's.
Mary Jo remembered, “When my mother was diagnosed in the 60’s, the words breast and cancer were almost never said in public and people whispered them in private. Twenty years later, some things had changed. Cancer could be discussed in the open, even breasts could be, but breast cancer was still whispered as if it were something embarrassing to have. Meanwhile, the lifetime risk of having the disease had risen steadily from 1 in 20 when my mother was diagnosed to 1 in 9 when my sister and I were diagnosed in 1989. Even with this startling rise in incidence, there was no press coverage; there was no public outcry, there was no special outlay of research money to combat this disease. Breast cancer was a silent epidemic.”
This was about to change in a big way.