On October 21st, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset, a RWJBarnabas Health facility, hosted their annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month Event. As COVID would have it, this year’s themed event “Breast Cancer Clusters: Blown out of the Water” boasted Erin Brokovich as it’s virtual headliner. The event educated viewers on ways to discover risks for breast cancer, environmental causes, and the latest and most innovative treatment options for breast cancer patients.

Dr. Deborah Lue, MD, breast surgeon and Director of Breast Cancer Services at RWJUH Somerset’s Steeplechase Cancer Center, took to the microphone to passionately advise the audience on modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors, preventative measures, and the new initiatives for early breast cancer detection and treatment. Breast cancer, the most common cancer in women worldwide, accounts for 1 in 4 of all cancers in women. One of initiatives that Dr. Lue highlighted is 3D-guided breast biopsy. This state-of-the-art technology, a new advancement at the Steeplechase Center, helps target tumors that may be challenging to detect with traditional 2D imaging. This technology is a game changer and estimated to have a 35-40% greater detection rate than 2D imaging. Advancements like this are key to promoting earlier detection and treatment of cancer.

Dr. Lue’s presentation was chock full of information but completely accessible.  Another highlight for me was her examination of risk factors. RWJBarnabas Somerset provides a comprehensive high risk screening that can examine a person’s risk for breast cancer based on genetic factors and personal lifestyle.  While breast density, BRCA mutations, and genetics are leading non-modifiable risk factors, there are many lifestyle modifications that can significantly lower a woman’s risk.

The age you have children, whether or not you breastfeed, obesity, diet, and lack of exercise are all modifiable risk factors. 33% of all cancer could be prevented by lifestyle changes alone.

I loved how Dr. Lue examined the importance of diet and exercise. She aasserted the healing power of green, leafy vegetables (colorful foods = cancer fighting nutrients) and how important it is for women to stay active, particularly after breast cancer diagnosis. She noted that there is a 34% increase in survival of patients with cancer diagnosis that stayed active.  We often hear that diet and exercise are imperative to ones health, but Dr. Lue truly convicted and inspired this NJMOM to eat a more whole food and plant based diet and to dedicate time to exercise..aside from chasing my toddler around.


Erin Brokovich, whose Oscar-winning film bore her name, was the guest speaker for the evening.  A commanding presence even through my computer screen, Brokovich was instrumental in helping to build a case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company for contaminated drinking water.  Her successful lawsuit settled in 1996 for $333 million dollars, the largest settlement in US history of direct-action lawsuits.

Brokovich talked about her background in activism and her heightened awareness of the environment, a skill and passion she garnered early in life through her relationship with father.  A highlight for me was the endearment with which she spoke of her father. She recalled nature walks they would take and how they would see ‘frogs with two heads’.  The discussions that followed sightings such as this helped shape and propel her into the woman she is today.

Brokovich, a grandmother of 4, applauded NJ for finalizing regulations in June 2020 to get two harmful chemicals linked to cancer (PFOA and PFOS) out of it’s drinking water.  As a NJMOM who has always been reluctant to drink NJ tap water, primarily out of the habit of buying bottled water and not knowledge, it was interesting to have a breakdown of just how harmful chemicals in drinking water can be and what is being done to filter them out of our NJ’s drinking water.

Bottled, aquifer, and fully filtrated water isn’t accessible to everyone and so there’s still work to be done! Brokovich communicated that the most accessible way to advocate for clean water is by joining your community, showing up at meetings, and asking questions! “City council in your backyard is a great way to start,” Brokovich said with witticism.

Thank you NJMOM for allowing me to sit in on an informative evening of dynamic speakers. Readers, if there’s any short takeaway, may it be: don’t delay your mammograms, eat a healthy diet and exercise, and investigate your risk factors and environment! For more information on breast cancer, prevention and treatment visit RWJBarnabas Health and RWJUH Somerset.

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