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Each October kicks off Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual health campaign aimed at promoting prevention and early screening as well as raising funds and awareness for breast cancer.

For former patient Marnee Long, each October is also a clear reminder of just how precious life is.

In October 2009, she was home recovering from a bilateral mastectomy on her 40th birthday. The surgery was the first step in the treatment of her stage 1 breast cancer at Moffitt Cancer Center.

She is now living cancer-free and today returned to Moffitt not as a patient but as an advocate for breast cancer awareness. A special guest to Moffitt’s Healthy KIDZ Goes Pink event, Long spoke with a group of teens from Tampa Catholic High School, where her daughter is a junior.

The teens belong to Tampa Catholic’s Think Pink club, a student organization dedicated to raising funds to support families of the school who are affected by breast cancer.

Students from Tampa Catholic High School's Think Pink club visit Moffitt Cancer Center for a day-long Healthy KIDZ event.

Long is all too familiar with how cancer’s impact stems beyond the individual. “It goes after everything in your family,” she says. “Cancer itself is awful enough. Families shouldn’t have to worry about finances.”

Addressing the group of students from Tampa Catholic, Long says “Behind the scenes, the money you’re raising is going to someone who is struggling. It’s really important.”

Long’s daughter Lauren knows personally the effect cancer can have on the family dynamic – she was only seven years old when her mom was diagnosed. Now Lauren uses her own experience to give back.

“I got involved in Think Pink to raise more awareness for breast cancer and support families who are struggling with it like my mom was. I want to help others and make them feel like they’re cared for during this journey,” she says.

Aside from giving back through financial support, Long tells the teens another simple way to help in the fight against breast cancer. “Ask the ladies in your world – moms, aunts, sisters – if they’re getting mammograms; if they’re doing self-exams.” A self-exam is how she discovered a lump, which led her to get an early mammogram – ultimately saving her life.    

She’s now a huge advocate for early detection through both self-exams and annual screening mammograms. “I’m probably a little pushy,” she says. “But I just want to save lives.”

While she credits her self-exam for finding the lump, she says her care team, friends and family were vital to getting her through her diagnosis and treatment. Dr. Christine Laronga, surgical oncologist in Moffitt’s Breast Program – and Long’s surgeon – also spoke with the students. Long refers to her as somewhat of an earthly angel.

The day continued with a discussion on careers in pathology and laboratory medicine by Dr. Marilin Rosa followed by a yoga session with Debra Cheek, Moffitt’s wellness coordinator.

The teens then crafted inspirational cards to gift to Moffitt patients – a small gesture Long says has a big impact. “You have no idea how this little gift you’re going to give may brighten their day.” Next to her bed still hang the paper cranes her daughter and husband made when she was a patient herself.

For Long, today’s event was the perfect way to spend the first day of a month usually filled with mixed emotions – sharing her story, educating, and creating awareness for a disease that strikes one in eight women.