Local News

Young mothers bond over cancer diagnosis, use experience to raise $45K for research

Posted February 21, 2019 4:46 p.m. EST
Updated February 21, 2019 8:44 p.m. EST

— Imagine being a busy mom with a career and husband when you suddenly learn you have cancer.

That scenario describes five Triangle women who came together for support during treatment and then decided they wanted to, in the famous words of Kay Yow, “let life kick them forward.”

Through a network of friends and chance meetings, the five who were once strangers are now exceptionally close.

Claren Englebreth, Allison Eckstein, Britni Prybol, Jen Hoverstad and Brittany Moye are all young mothers who were treated for breast cancer in 2018.

Prybol, a law student, is just 31 years old. Englebreth, 39, was 34 weeks pregnant when she was diagnosed.

“Before, you would hear about people with a diagnosis and think, ‘Oh, that’s so sad’ and you know it could be you, but you never actually think it could be you until it is,” Englebreth said.

“Or you think, ‘How could someone ever live with a cancer diagnosis and keep going’ and then you’re faced with it, and it’s because you have to,” Prybol added. “We have these little people who are depending on us.”

The women’s cases are not common. Only about 5 percent of breast cancer cases occur in women under the age of 40.

“They thought it could be a lot of different things and they thought it definitely could not be cancer, so after several biopsies, I was diagnosed,” Englebreth said.

Eckstein found a lump before ever being told she should have a mammogram. Even as a nurse, Moye was hesitant to go to the doctor for something that seemed so unlikely at her age.

“I had an annual appointment two weeks later, and I had friends that encouraged me to go that day, and I’m glad that they did,” Moye said. “You realize how precious life is in a very different way.”

Hoverstad saw a discoloration on her skin and, almost overnight, had a tumor that felt like a walnut.

“That was the question we kept asking doctors. How did this happen? Where did this come from?” she said.

“There’s a lot of questions when you go through this, so to be able to shoot off a text to a group of friends that are going through the same thing, it’s really helpful,” Eckstein said.

Lately, the text messages within the group are all about their huge fundraising effort for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, a group founded by the former North Carolina State University women’s basketball coach to fund research to find an end to all women’s cancers.

They started a team called Young Moms Against Cancer to perhaps help others avoid the struggles they faced when they were diagnosed.

The moms started with a goal of raising $10,000, but brought in nearly $45,000.

“It’s been really uplifting, which is what I think Kay Yow was all about,” Moy said.

“I’m hopeful that we will continue to make a difference as this team and continue to give back and to not give us more time, but to give other people time and to stop those conversations that we had to have with my 10-year-old and 12-year-old,” Englebreth said.

The Kay Yow celebration run and walk took place last weekend and the total money raised continues to grow.

The Kay Yow Cancer Fund has awarded $7.53 million to the fight against women's cancers since it was founded in 2007. The fund has supported several local projects, including digital imaging equipment for mobile mammography units that serve under insured or uninsured women in 17 central North Carolina counties.

All five of the young mothers have been declared cancer-free, but they continue to take daily medication. They urge other young women to fight for a mammogram if they believe there is a problem, even if their doctor says they're too young to be at risk for breast cancer.

"I know I asked for my own, and luckily my doctor ordered one, but I have friends who have symptoms or discoloration or they have something they are concerned about and their doctor just says, 'You're too young, let's give it six months,'" Prybol said.

The typical recommended age for a woman to get a mammogram is 40.

"If you feel a lump, get a biopsy. You have nothing to lose," Eckstein said.

"If you say, 'Let's wait six months,' that's six months of growth. If you feel something, encourage your doctor to do a biopsy," Moye added.