When my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer three years ago, science got personal. I resolved to learn everything I could, scanning headlines for medical breakthroughs, taking summer genetics courses, searching for anything that might help her.
As I gained fluency in the science, I was disturbed by the demographics. Alarmingly, one in 40 Ashkenazi women (Jews of Eastern European descent) has a mutation of the BRCA gene. For Sephardic women (Jews of Mediterranean and North African descent), it may be one in 30.
Have you have heard of BRCA (pronounced bra-ka)?If so, you may already be aware that the BRCA gene is a critical tumor suppressor in the human cell. Its function is to prevent cancer. A mutation increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer to over 70 percent, and the risk of ovarian cancer rises to almost 40 percent. Other cancers become more likely, too, including male breast cancer, prostate cancer, and — what my grandmother is battling — pancreatic cancer.
This is a hereditary mutation 10 times more prevalent in Jews than in the general population. Clearly, it is a problem the Jewish community must address.
That is why I founded Bras4BRCA to spread awareness about the gene mutation and increase support for subsidized testing. Yes, other organizations are doing this, but awareness is not nearly as widespread as it should be, so many women don’t take adequate preventive measures.
Plus, those other organizations want to partner with us. Why? Because we provide a “generational solution.” No other organization is focused on the age group we are so perfectly designed to reach — teenagers. By leveraging our peer networks in youth organizations, like BBYO, high schools, and synagogues, we are preparing a whole generation of young women and men to deal with the issue before they get to an age where they are at higher risk. In other words, before it is too late.
One strategy we are using is our campaign to collect used and new bras. Picture this: I sent out a text message to a few friends, asking if they would donate bras and/or money if I held a campaign like this. Immediately, they texted back:
“Totally! I have so many bras I should get rid of.”
Then, my computer started pinging every few seconds as friends of friends were sending me messages, until I started getting texts from people I’d never even heard of. My favorite so far: “You want my used bras? Creepy, but cool. I’m in!”
Our network consists of more than 300 teenage Bra Ambassadors, so far. They are reaching out to individual donors requesting a dime, quarter, or even a dollar for every bra we collect, up to a maximum pledge of the donor’s choosing.
For all those good-hearted teenagers helping Bras4BRCA, we are planning our first awards ceremony — a low-budget “Brala” event — in early June. The Bra Ambassadors who have done the most to advance our cause will receive The Golden Bra Award. This makes Bras4BRCA not only helpful to our community, but brings us together in a fun, unique way.
Our goal is to collect 2,000 bras and raise another $5,000 dollars by May 31. As of mid-month, we have close to 800 bras and $2,250 in donations. We still have a long way to go. Partnering with sponsors, international organizations, and hundreds of teenagers, Bras4BRCA has the opportunity to help save thousands of lives. You can learn more by visiting www.Bras4BRCA.org.
By Daniel Morgan
Daniel Morgan is the 2018 winner of Impact L’Atid, Greater Washington’s Jewish Teen Social Innovation Showcase, sponsored by BBYO and the United Jewish Endowment Fund. A junior at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, Daniel established Bras4BRCA, which took first prize among the dozen ventures proposed in the Showcase.