As a daughter and healthcare advocate, Lizzie Wittig understands the value of cancer research. A clinical trial, she says, gave her six additional years with her mother, who was diagnosed with stage III (a) HER2+ breast cancer in 2003.
“My mom’s journey and my experience through it really propelled me into my passion, purpose and career,” she said during a conversation with OmniComm’s editorial team.
Here’s more from that conversation.
How did your mother’s medical journey influence your career path?
When my mom was first diagnosed, I was 17 and in high school. I tried to help her by taking care of her at home, navigating the health system and also keeping track of all her doctor’s appointments and medications.
You know, she had some days that were so bad she didn’t even feel well enough to make a phone call, and I had the task of trying to call her doctors and set appointments. I had to make sure test results got to other departments or doctors. Sometimes, it was really difficult for me, and I finally started reaching out to my mom’s co-workers and personal friends to help me.
My mom was a nurse practitioner and worked for the health system where she was being treated; so, I was just calling people I knew personally and asking them to pull strings for us. It worked, and I was super grateful, but it really made me think about what happens to other people who don’t have inside connections or don’t even have friends or family to help them with this stuff.
I was never able to let go of this feeling that this wasn’t right and something had to change. Then, a couple years later, I got an opportunity to finally do something about these issues and questions by participating in a “lobby day” up in Sacramento through Susan G. Komen San Diego.
As I got more involved and volunteered more for Komen San Diego, I was able to advocate for changes that created the first breast cancer patient navigators here in San Diego and care coordination programs. It was an incredible way for me to honor my mom and our experience through her breast cancer journey.
Did Susan G. Komen San Diego play a role in your mother’s clinical trial?
Just a short time after my first lobby day with Komen, I found out that the clinical trial my mom was in and the drug she received through it were funded in part by Komen.
Komen, along with all the researchers and clinicians involved in the work, really gave me six extra years with my mom. After that, Komen gave me a platform to make change and ensure other breast cancer patients didn’t have to go through what my mom went through. So when I got the opportunity to work for this organization, it was a true honor and dream come true.
What do you want the public to know about cancer research?
I hear a lot of questions about why we don’t have a cure yet for breast cancer. And while — of course — I want a cure as well, I think it’s important to see how far we’ve come. Today, people who are diagnosed with the same kind of breast cancer my mom had 15 years ago are surviving and living long lives. Her2+ breast cancer is no longer a death sentence like it used to be, and that’s thanks to research and clinical trials. I’m inspired by the progress we’re making and the knowledge that now more families get to keep their loved ones for a full lifetime, whereas they did not have that option before.
Please describe your work at Susan G. Komen San Diego.
I am the director of mission and public policy for Susan G. Komen San Diego, which basically means I get to work with our breast cancer community here in San Diego to develop programs, resources and laws to cover the gaps in breast health and breast cancer care.
What is the unique focus of Susan G. Komen San Diego?
Our mission is to save lives by finding research breakthroughs for breast cancer and ensuring all people receive the care they need. One of the things unique to Komen is that every four to five years, we conduct an in-depth needs assessment of our service area (San Diego County) to uncover emerging barriers, unmet needs and gaps in existing breast healthcare. We focus our efforts on creating and providing services to bridge those gaps. In addition to our mission, Komen has a Bold Goal to reduce the number of deaths each year from breast cancer by 50% by 2026.
The Susan G. Komen Scientific Advisory Taskforce has estimated that one-third of all breast cancer deaths could be prevented without a single new breakthrough in research — that means we can save lives just by making sure breast cancer patients get the care they need when they need it. That’s what we do here at Komen San Diego, we create resources to ensure San Diegans have access to the services they need and when they need them, and to invest in global research to unlock the cures to this disease.
Lizzie Wittig Joins OmniComm Team at DIA 2019
Learn how a clinical trial helped to add years to the life of one breast cancer patient. Her daughter & caretaker, Lizzie Wittig of Susan G. Komen San Diego, will join the OmniComm team in Booth #1823 to share her family’s story, June 24-26, at DIA 2019: Details.