Houston women raise funds for Young Survival Coalition

February 15, 2019

Many people think about breast cancer striking women more than 40, but it also affects young women who are in college, just starting their careers or well ahead of starting families.

Houston’s branch of the Young Survival Coalition is raising funds to support young women diagnosed with breast cancer through programs, support and education.

In its 20th year, Young Survival Coalition was started by three young women in New York, each facing a tough diagnosis and not really knowing where to turn.

“They were kind of by themselves and somehow connected with each other and really saw very quickly what a unique circumstance it was to be under 40, to have young children, to be at the beginning of your career, being faced with dating, intimacy issues and reconstruction and all that comes with it,” said YSC State Leader Michelle Piña.

Now across the nation, the organization has state leaders like Piña that work with health care providers, hospitals and other nonprofits to build relationships, raise awareness and provide free electronic resources, literature, navigators and both virtual and face-to-face support groups.

About a dozen women from YSC are hosting a charity poker tournament this Saturday at Christian’s Tailgate, located in the Heights at 2820 White Oak Drive. Registration for the tournament starts at 12:30 p.m.

“People can sign up when they arrive and purchase their playing chips. It’s a full-fledged poker tournament,” Piña said. “They keep playing until the last man standing.”

The event will also have raffle prizes and silent auction items, and all proceeds will support the HoUSton Strong Fundraising Team as they head to the YSC Summit conference next month. Young women dealing with breast cancer and their co-survivors — husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends, parents, siblings: whoever that key person is — will gather in Austin from March 7-9 for a few days of learning, social gatherings and supporting each other.

Amy Johannson was first diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago when she was just 29. She originally found a lump in her breast and figured her doctor would say she was too young to have breast cancer, to not worry about. When she learned otherwise, she was grateful to find help from the Young Survival Coalition.

“I think what you find out is that the doctors and nurses give you a lot of medical information, but you don’t get any emotional support and you don’t hear about what other people in similar circumstances have gone through,” Johannson said.

She started going to face-to-face support groups, many of which meet near her Spring Branch home at Omnia Healthcare on Woodway Drive. Johannson finished her treatment in April 2018. A long road of recovery had brought her surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and medication. She now takes another medication to keep her well and still has to get checkups, but she is healthy and volunteers with YSC.

Piña is a breast cancer survivor of 13 years. Diagnosed at 33, she found YSC through its discussion boards. The first on both sides of her family to be diagnosed, Piña said she quickly became an advocate as friends would approach her for help when someone they knew was diagnosed.

Once Piña completed her initial round of treatment, she began volunteering with YSC locally. Twelve years later, she is still working on behalf of young survivors. With a cancer diagnosis comes lots of treatment decisions, so Piña encourages women to listen carefully in the doctor’s office so they can better comprehend their options.

“Keep asking questions until you understand,” she said. “Don’t ever walk out of the room. Don’t ever make a decision unless you are completely, 100 percent comfortable, you’ve got all the information in front of you to make the best decision at that moment.”

This October, Piña is looking forward to taking part in her fifth Tour de Pink. The three-day bike ride will take both Piña and Johannson along 200 miles of the California coast as they raise money for the organization while other riders make a similar trek on the East Coast.

This will be Johannson’s first time to make the trip. She is excited about riding on the Third Coasters team — an homage to the Texas Gulf Coast — and is working on a training plan.

Battling cancer is tough. Johannson said the Young Survival Coalition can help women navigate a number of issues ranging from where to find a wig and what to look for to making sure they consider an egg retrieval process so they she can possibly have children in the future.

“This is where you get that sort of resources and support from other people,” she said.

To learn more or to donate, visit www.youngsurvival.org. You can also get connected to support groups by searching for Young Survival Coalition on www.meetup.com.