Jane Pang has given her time, money and abounding energy to the fight against breast cancer. She's also shared the most personal and precious gift of all — a piece of herself.
Earlier this year, Pang flew from Orange County, Calif., to Indianapolis so researchers could extract and freeze a sample of her healthy breast tissue for the Susan G. Komen Tissue Bank at Indiana University. The bank, supported by roughly $1 million a year in Komen funds, provides researchers from around the world with samples of normal tissue that can be compared with cancerous tissue to better understand and treat the disease.
"The older we get, the greater your risk," Pang said. "At 70, I haven't gotten it. Are we who are elderly, without breast cancer, do we hold the cure'"
Pang, of Huntington Beach, Calif., was joined by Garden Grove, Calif., resident Charlene Kazner and Angela Acevedo-Malouf of Mission Viejo, Calif. The women underwent biopsies to help increase the bank's ethnic diversity. The bank is seeking to include more samples from Asians and Latinas, and from women over 70 who have never had breast cancer.
Since the tissue bank started in 2007, most (nearly 80 percent) of the 3,000-plus samples have come from white donors. But researchers need to study women of all backgrounds and stages of life — they need samples from a variety of ethnicities, ages and hormonal states, such as those brought on by pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause.
Dr. Anna Maria Storniolo, director of the Komen Tissue Bank, said researchers can request extremely specific tissue samples based, for instance, on a donor's age, her number of children or her history of tobacco use. Donor identities are kept confidential.
She said researchers have published seven studies with data derived from the tissue bank, including one by Thea Tlsty, a University of California-San Francisco pathologist. Tlsty used tissue to study the cause of dense breasts, which are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer. The findings were published in the journal Cancer Discovery.
"Without access to that tissue, we couldn't have asked this question, we couldn't have found these results," Tlsty said. "You can't get this from mice tissue. That's why this bank is an incredible resource."
Jane Pang, a retired nurse, has cared for her husband, Victor, through three bouts of cancer, most recently of the breast. Breast cancer is about 100 times less common in men than women, according to the American Cancer Society.
Jane Pang, who is of Chinese and Japanese descent, grew up in Hawaii; her husband is native Hawaiian.
Victor Pang, 75, first underwent chemotherapy and radiation in 1983 for an eye tumor stemming from non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Twenty years later, surgeons removed a golf-ball-sized brain tumor and he went through chemo again. In 2009, a small mass was detected during a routine chest X-ray. His left breast was removed and he again underwent chemo.
Long before, the Pangs were active in promoting breast health among Pacific Islanders after close friends developed breast cancer. But still, they were shocked by the diagnosis.
"We were rather overwhelmed despite the fact he's had all this background information," Jane Pang said. "I discovered [men] go through the same trauma and the same emotional adjustment to the surgery itself."
For Pang, donating her tissue was never in question. The tissue bank hopes to eventually collect from men, Storniolo said.
"Going to Indiana, I really understood the plight they have," Pang said. "They are predominantly white. I said, 'We've got to make a difference in Orange County. We've got the diversity. Let's step up.'"
Angela Acevedo-Malouf, 54, works as a nurse at St. Joseph Hospital's cancer center in Orange, Calif. But it wasn't until her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer nearly three years ago that she gained better insight into what her patients experience.
Acevedo-Malouf's mother, 71, is doing well after undergoing a double mastectomy.
"I was there with my mom for the biopsy, the diagnosis, the chemo and the surgeries," she said. "When I work with my patients, this has helped me to view ahead what they might need."