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For 33-year-old cancer survivor, a new perspective on the Komen race

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 11, 2009 - Heather Meier walks each year in the Susan G. Komen St. Louis Race for the Cure. And she’s never been short on motivation.

Her mother, Bev, was diagnosed with breast cancer more than 15 years ago. Meier’s walking team, largely made up of her friends from Mascoutah, Ill., makes it a point to keep many survivors in mind as they take part in the fundraising event. This year, the team will add one of its own to that list. Meier, 33, found out in September that she had the beginning stage of breast cancer.

“This year will probably feel different for me walking in the race,” Meier said. “With everything I’ve been through, not only will I enjoy it more, I’ll appreciate everyone who’s there and has a friend or loved one affected by this.”

As a woman in her early 30s, Meier said she didn’t feel any urgency to get her first mammogram. (Her mother learned of her diagnoses in her early 40s.) But last summer, at her sister’s request, Meier went in for testing. She returned for a biopsy because of suspicious findings. Soon thereafter, she learned that she had breast cancer. 

“I was shocked because the doctor said even though they saw abnormal cells they wanted to look at, that’s not uncommon for a woman undergoing her first mammogram,” Meier said.  “It’s especially shocking news for a young woman to get.”

When it came time for her treatment, Meier had flashbacks to her teenage years when she accompanied her mother to radiation sessions. Last October, Meier underwent a bilateral mastectomy. She’s still in the process of reconstruction.

Meier, a project coordinator for Busch Entertainment, said that tests have indicated that she doesn’t carry the hereditary genes that are known to be associated with breast cancer. That raises more questions in her mind: “Did my mom have the same bad luck, or is there a gene out there that hasn’t been identified that would explain this?” she wonders.

While there were physically painful times after the surgery, Meier said she feels well on the eve of the Komen race. She’ll join her mother (who’s cancer free) and other friends for the 5K walk this weekend. She said there could be more than 20 people in her group, including a drummer to provide some entertainment.

This year, the group is adding a new tradition: After the race, people are planning to return by mass transit to Mascoutah for a barbecue. “Rather than walk and then continue on with our day, we thought it’d be nice to have a celebration of all women, because we all know someone with breast cancer,” she said.