Breast density matters—more than some realize, enough that one West Michigan woman and cancer survivor was driven to action.
Teresa Hendricks-Pitsch was in seventh grade when she knew she wanted to be an attorney. She wanted to speak up for others; to make injustices right. An owner-attorney with Hendricks & Watkins, PLC, and executive director of Michigan Migrant Legal Aid, she graduated from Purdue University with distinction, and obtained her law degree from Thomas M. Cooley Law School. She's been in private practice nearly two decades. She's the 2014 Women of Achievement & Courage in Healthcare – West Michigan honoree, Advocacy. She's determined.
"We're behind in the U.S. Women need to know they have options and stand up for themselves." Teresa talks of screening hopes: "We need to acknowledge breast density is a strong risk factor, in and of itself." "We need to stop radiating women. We need a different gold standard. We're barbaric in how we handle this." "We're not screening hard enough for BRCA1 and 2." She believes in survivorship. "It's a process. We're all in it." She believes in learning what you need to know.
Teresa was always determined, albeit once shy. In high school, she signed up to learn French. When she mistakenly entered the Spanish classroom, she hesitated to leave and attract attention. Loving the instructor's enthusiasm, she stayed put. "It changed the trajectory of my life!" In college, she changed schools and programs to find the study abroad opportunity she envisioned and spent a year at University of Madrid.
During law school, Teresa studied French at night. She eventually worked for a French firm and lived with a family in Bordeaux. Thinking of pursuing International Law, she took a job in Barcelona. When it wasn't as hoped she returned to the States, wanting to use language and her law degree to help others.
Teresa advocated for others. But when breast cancer changed her world, her advocacy also changed. She was diagnosed in 2011, after receiving regular mammograms for seven years and being told doctors didn't see anything. The diagnosis was unwelcome, as was learning no one could've seen anything, due to her breast density. Those years of good news weren't so good.
When first diagnosed, she was extremely protective of the information. When word got out, Teresa went swiftly from, "Don't tell!" to "Give me a public forum!" It became easier when talking facts and process. Thinking of others whose diagnosis was delayed by breast density gave her strength to fight. Before her first chemotherapy, before her mastectomy, she began working on an advocacy bill.
To learn more about Teresa's fight to increase women's awareness of breast density, and for her own health, click here to read her entire profile in the digital edition of West Michigan Woman magazine.
Photo courtesy of Kelly Braman Photography.