Tricia Roberts was 35 when she got the news she was at high risk for developing breast cancer. At 36, she underwent a preventive double mastectomy.
Now, four years later, the western Iowa woman is turning to one of Iowa’s most popular summer events to help raise awareness about the disease and promote breast health education, particularly among young women.
“Women need to know enough about their bodies to know when something is changed and something is wrong,” said Roberts, of Dunlap.
That’s why she’s advocating for participants, spectators and volunteers to wear pink July 22, the second day of cycling on the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.
The “Pink Out” is an effort “to show support for women currently battling breast cancer and those who have survived and to honor those who’ve lost the battle,” Roberts said.
RAGBRAI Director T.J. Juskiewicz said he gets countless requests from charities and nonprofit organizations to partner with the ride that attracts more than 10,000 riders each summer. The Pink Out is not an official part of RAGBRAI, but Juskiewicz did give Roberts the green light to promote it.
In addition to raising awareness, Roberts will be raising money for Check the Girls, a nonprofit organization she formed last year to educate young women and provide free mammograms for Iowans. Roberts has plans to set up in Shelby when RAGBRAI rolls through Sunday to sell pink T-shirts for the next day’s ride.
Roberts sought more information on her own breast cancer risk after her mother and maternal grandmother were diagnosed with the disease. She has not been tested for the defective BRCA1 gene that significantly increases a woman’s odds of developing breast cancer.
Actress Angelina Jolie made headlines last month after announcing she had undergone a preventative double mastectomy after learning she had the defective gene.
For Roberts, the decision came after breast tissue biopsies revealed pre-cancerous cells. Doctors said she had a 65 percent chance of developing the disease.
“I was visualizing something brewing and just waiting to explode,” she said. “I felt like a sitting duck and didn’t want to play the wait-and-see game.”
Since founding Check the Girls in 2012, Roberts has focused on providing mammograms to women who are considered low income, uninsured or under-insured in a five-county region in western Iowa. She has been partnering with the Iowa Breast and Cervical Screening Program, known locally as Care for Yourself, an initiative of the Iowa Department of Public Health.
That program generally serves women from 40 to 64 years old. Check the Girls typically helps those younger than 40, particularly if they’ve found issues with their breasts, Care for Yourself program coordinator Karla Akers said.
“Especially women who’ve had breast cancer history in their families, they need to know where to turn,” Akers said.
Roberts says the program has provided mammograms for more than a dozen women so far. She’s hoping that with more fundraising, Check the Girls can expand its reach. “I want to be able to spread the message across the entire state of Iowa and let it grow from there,” she said.
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