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Back to In the News

Tailored to Fit

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Dara Richardson-Heron, a doctor and breast cancer survivor, works with the All of Us Research Program, which aims to customize medical treatment for individuals.

On a rainy day more than 20 years ago, Dara Richardson-Heron, MD, learned that she had breast cancer at age 34. Although she was a physician, she was devastated by the news.

Prior to her diagnosis, she had noticed a lump in her breast after doing a self-exam. While she wasn’t initially worried, she knew that the lump should be evaluated, so she scheduled an appointment with her physician. During her physical exam, she mentioned what she’d felt to her doctor, and he agreed that an evaluation should be done. But he told her that he doubted there was anything to be concerned about because she was so young.

Richardson-Heron’s mother, however, had been diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years earlier. Because of this history and her medical training, she insisted on getting further tests. Consequently, her doctor agreed to give her a referral for a mammogram.

“Sometimes women—in particular, women of color—are not taken as seriously as we should be when we go to the doctor,” she says. “I always tell women that if you don’t get the response you feel is appropriate when you present your health concerns to your physician or caregiver, it’s very important to move on to someone else.”

After the mammogram, she was even more certain something was wrong. Richardson-Heron reached out to a former professor of hers, an oncologist at New York University Medical School, who evaluated her case and subsequently managed her treatment.

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer a month after my wedding,” she says. “The experience was unbelievably surreal, devastating and life-altering.”