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Meet Jessica Parser, President of the BIG Committee of Ambassadors

Intro text: 

Jessica has huge respect and admiration for the teams that work to find a cure and work to make those living with breast cancer more comfortable. She decided that she had to do something. As the President of our Committee of Ambassadors, Jessica helps to raise funds for breast cancer research.

BIG: Could you please tell us about yourself?

Jessica Parser : I’m an American but I have lived in Europe for most of my life, so I consider myself European. I started my career at SWIFT, working in various capacities, and was eventually promoted to Director of Communications. After working with them for almost 20 years, I left SWIFT in 1993 to open my own company, focused on organizing events.  We organized large conferences throughout the world, which required a lot of intense work and long hours.

In the midst of running my business, in 2005, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Fortunately, I had been screened for breast cancer regularly since the age of 40, so the cancer was detected when it was still only medium-invasive breast cancer. I went through surgery plus a 6-week course of radiotherapy. This was very difficult while I was running my company, but I worked though it with the support of my partner, my children, friends and colleagues. Still, it was very tiring. I was very lucky to be spared chemotherapy, and came out of my treatment with a good prognosis. 

This experience was a wake up call to life, and I started to think about the things I wanted to do but never had time.  When my grandchildren arrived, this was a second wake up call.  The intense hours I worked while organizing conferences were tiring and all consuming, and work was it was taking its toll.  I had the opportunity to sell my company in 2011 and I did so.

BIG : What motivated you to become the President of the Committee of BIG Ambassadors?

J.P. : I decided that I needed more in my life. I mentioned my restlessness to a friend who happened to be acquainted with Dr. Martine Piccart, the President of BIG, who was in the process of establishing BIG against breast cancer. This mutual friend put us in touch, and I met with Dr. Piccart, who was incredibly impressive. I told her that I would be interested in making a difference for breast cancer patients, and she invited me on board. I hope that my background in communications and event organizing will help BIG expand its network of supporters.

BIG : What do you hope the Ambassadors can accomplish?

J.P. : We are a support group to BIG and we are here to further BIG’s goals, which means helping with events, sharing our experience, providing guidance, and also helping to expand the contacts that BIG already has. I hope that we can make some progress reaching out to people, and dispelling two major misconceptions about breast cancer research: 1) that it is fully financed by the pharmaceutical industry and therefore doesn’t need additional funding and 2) that there has been so much progress that no one dies from breast cancer any more.  On the first point, there are many studies that are of no commercial interest to Pharma, and so require outside support.  On the second point, metastatic breast cancer is still a killer and needs more research. Another challenge is to build the support, involvement and enthusiasm from people who have not been touched by breast cancer in their lives. It’s such a worthwhile cause to support, for our mothers, daughters and granddaughters. I think it’s up to us to communicate that message.

BIG : How do you think that others can help?

J.P. : We need the input of young people and I hope we can reach out to them and get them involved. I also hope that we can expand beyond the Belgian community, so that the international aspect of BIG as a research group is reflected in the network of supporters. People who want to support BIG can help not only by donating funds, but also by sharing ideas, by talking about BIG to their friends, and by associating BIG with the events that they plan or attend. Such events can help get the message out, raise funds, and give BIG the prestige that it deserves.

BIG : What do you think makes BIG unique?

J.P. : I think that the global, cooperative aspect of BIG, with researchers sharing data and information, is not the common modus operandi. That’s unique.  Everybody I have met at BIG demonstrates extraordinary dedication. They represent the crème de la crème of the medical profession. What’s also important is that the researchers I have met are also clinical doctors, so they are directly in touch with the issues that patients face.  They understand the problems that patients are dealing with in real life, such as the desire to start a family while undergoing treatment, or the stress of undergoing toxic therapies.

BIG : BIG just celebrated its 15-year anniversary. What do you hope to see in the next 15 years?

J.P. : My great hope is to see a cure for metastatic breast cancer. It’s still the most lethal form of breast cancer and we need to help those patients.  I would also hope that breast cancer screening becomes truly universal, so that more women are diagnosed before their breast cancer has a chance to spread.