Breast cancer: Women donate to breast cancer tissue bank
Jane Pang of Huntington Beach, Calif., left, and Charlene Kazner of Garden Grove, are breast tissue donors. They attended the 31st Annual Scholarship 'Aha'Aina held at Costa Mesa Community Center in August. Pang's husband is a breast cancer survivor. MCT Purchase photo reprints »
Jane Pang has given her time, money and abounding energy to the fight against breast cancer. She’s 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 haven’t 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 bank’s ethnic diversity — and to serve as ambassadors as recruitment begins for a first-ever West Coast tissue collection Nov. 2 in Orange County, Calif.
“It’s just such an unusual, really connected opportunity to be part of research,” said Lisa Wolter, executive director of Komen’s Orange County branch. “I’m not a scientist, I’m 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 donor’s 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, studying the cause of dense breasts, which are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer.
Jane 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.
Jane 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. But still, they were shocked by the diagnosis.
“We were rather overwhelmed despite the fact he’s 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.
Angela Acevedo-Malouf, 54, works as a nurse at St. Joseph Hospital’s cancer center in Orange, Calif. But it wasn’t until her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer nearly three years ago that she gained better insight into what her patients experience.
Acevedo-Malouf’s 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. She continues volunteering to help educate Spanish-speaking women about mammograms.
When she heard about the tissue bank opportunity, she immediately volunteered.
“I have been talking to my friends. They’ve 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. When it came time for her 45-minute appointment at Indiana University’s cancer center, she felt calm and relaxed.
“You may feel the injection, which is a very fine needle of anesthetic,” she said. “It’s nothing more than maybe having a flu shot.”
Afterward, she wore an ice pack in her bra for the flight home. She had a small bruise for a couple of days.
She tells friends how good she feels about her contribution.
Charlene Kazner, 63, of Garden Grove, Calif., is a 5-year uterine cancer survivor who has made breast cancer her cause.
Kazner underwent a hysterectomy but didn’t need chemo or radiation because the cancer was caught early. During that time, Kazner decided to talk to Jane and Victor Pang, who were also members of the Hawaiian Civic Club. “I started to learn more about breast cancer and I saw that breast cancer affects more families than uterine cancer, even though I myself am a uterine cancer survivor,” she said. “I thought my impact in the community would be far broader and wider for breast cancer.”