SANTA ANA, Calif. Jane Pang has given her time, money and abounding energy to the fight against breast cancer. Shes also shared the most personal and precious gift of all: a piece of herself.
Pang flew from Orange County, Calif., to Indianapolis in February so researchers could extract and freeze a sample of her healthy breast tissue for the Susan G. Komen Tissue Bank at Indiana University. The bank, supported by roughly $1 million a year in Komen funds, provides researchers from around the world with samples of normal tissue that can be compared with cancerous tissue to better understand and treat the disease.
The older we get, the greater your risk, Pang said. At 70, I havent gotten it. Are we who are elderly, without breast cancer, do we hold the cure?
Pang, of Huntington Beach, Calif., was joined by Garden Grove, Calif., resident Charlene Kazner and Angela Acevedo-Malouf of Mission Viejo, Calif. The women underwent biopsies to help increase the banks ethnic diversity and to serve as ambassadors as recruitment begins for a first-ever West Coast tissue collection Nov. 2 in Orange County, Calif.
Its just such an unusual, really connected opportunity to be part of research, said Lisa Wolter, executive director of Komens Orange County branch. Im not a scientist, Im not a doctor, but I can do this.
Since the tissue bank started in 2007, most of the 3,000-plus samples have come from white donors. But researchers need to study women of all backgrounds and stages of life they need samples from a variety of ethnicities, ages and hormonal states, such as those brought on by pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause.
Dr. Anna Maria Storniolo, director of the Komen Tissue Bank, said researchers can request extremely specific tissue samples based, for instance, on a donors age, her number of children or her history of tobacco use. Donor identities are kept confidential.
She said researchers have published seven studies with data derived from the tissue bank, including one by Thea Tlsty, a University of California-San Francisco pathologist. Tlsty used tissue to study the cause of dense breasts, which are associated with high cancer risk.
Without access to that tissue, we couldnt have asked this question, we couldnt have found these results, Tlsty said. Thats why this bank is an incredible resource.
Wolter said that more minorities and women older than 65 are needed, but no one who signs up will be turned away.
Our goal is to make sure the word gets out to everyone, but to carry a message of the importance of involving the entire ethnic populations, she said.
To that end, the three women are speaking at public events, hanging signs where they shop and attending the Sept. 22 Race for the Cure at Fashion Island.
Pang, a retired nurse, has cared for her husband, Victor, through three bouts of cancer, most recently of the breast. Breast cancer is about 100 times less common in men than women, according to the American Cancer Society.
Pang, who is of Chinese and Japanese descent, grew up in Hawaii; her husband is native Hawaiian.
Victor Pang, 75, first underwent chemotherapy and radiation in 1983 for an eye tumor stemming from non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Twenty years later, surgeons removed a golf-ball-sized brain tumor and he went through chemo again. In 2009, a small mass was detected during a routine chest X-ray. His left breast was removed and he again underwent chemo.
Long before, the Pangs were active in promoting breast health among Pacific Islanders after close friends developed breast cancer.
We were rather overwhelmed despite the fact hes had all this background information, Jane Pang said. I discovered (men) go through the same trauma and the same emotional adjustment to the surgery itself.
For Pang, donating her tissue was never in question. The tissue bank hopes to eventually collect from men, Storniolo said.
Going to Indiana, I really understood the plight they have, Pang said. They are predominantly white. I said, Weve got to make a difference in Orange County. Weve got the diversity.
Acevedo-Malouf, 54, works as a nurse at St. Joseph Hospitals cancer center in Orange, Calif. But it wasnt until her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer nearly three years ago that she gained better insight into what her patients experience.
Acevedo-Maloufs mother, 71, is doing well after undergoing a double mastectomy.
I was there with my mom for the biopsy, the diagnosis, the chemo and the surgeries, she said. When I work with my patients, this has helped me to view ahead what they might need.
Acevedo-Malouf grew up in Colombia, where she became a nurse. At 27, she moved to California and spent three years learning English before passing her registered nursing boards.
She previously worked at a community clinic that partnered with Komen to ensure that low-income women received breast screenings and mammograms. When she heard about the tissue bank, she immediately volunteered.
I have been talking to my friends. Theyve asked, Does it hurt? How long does it take?
Acevedo-Malouf knew what to expect not only because of her nursing experience, but because in 2005 she underwent a breast biopsy that came back negative.
Your whole world turns. You start to evaluate basically the whole life, saying, What if? What if?
When it came time for her 45-minute appointment at Indiana Universitys cancer center, she felt calm and relaxed.
You may feel the injection, which is a very fine needle of anesthetic, she said. Its nothing more than maybe having a flu shot.
Afterward, she wore an ice pack in her bra for the flight home. She told friends how good she felt about her contribution.
Im very proud, Acevedo-Malouf said. Im very excited to one day find out results of what they have done with it.