October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Hil Moss, a student in the Yale School of Public Health’s three-year M.B.A./M.P.H. Program in Health Care Management, was well on her way to a future career in the entertainment industry when a breast cancer diagnosis changed her life. Today, Moss is a proud breast cancer survivor and advocate who has shifted her career focus to women’s health and cancer care. She is sharing her story to help bring attention to breast cancer in young women and raise awareness.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. You describe yourself as a breast cancer survivor and advocate. Can you tell us more about your personal experience with breast cancer?
H.M.: In the fall of 2018, I was six weeks into the M.B.A. program at the Yale School of Management when I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma. I was 28 years old and had no family history—to say it was a surprise is the world’s greatest understatement! In the period that followed, I underwent 13 months’ worth of infusions and multiple surgeries, including a double mastectomy. I remain on hormone therapy for the next five years, but as of November 2019, I have completed active treatment and consider myself in remission.
How did your diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer change you as a person? Did your experience with breast cancer contribute to your decision to pursue a career in women’s health and cancer care?
H.M.: My experiences as a patient and survivor fundamentally changed me as a person and set me on an entirely new life path. Before I got sick, I had worked for years as a consultant for arts and culture organizations and was eyeing a future career in the entertainment industry. During my time in treatment, however, I became very active as an advocate and a writer in the young breast cancer community and started learning everything I could about the challenges related to access and delivery of women’s health and cancer care. Shortly after my treatment concluded, I had one of those classic, middle-of-the-night realizations: moving forward, I wasn’t going to be fulfilled spending my time on anything else. The next morning, I woke up, revised my resume, started applying to internships in the women’s health space, and reached out to YSPH about the prospect of pursuing my M.P.H.
You are currently pursuing dual degrees at Yale – an M.B.A. and an M.P.H. Can you tell us a little more about your academic interests and standing?
H.M.: I am currently in my second year of the Yale School of Public Health’s three-year M.B.A./M.P.H. program —I completed my first year at the business school last year, and this year I’m taking the core requirements for my M.P.H. I’m interested in entrepreneurship in women’s health and cancer care and hope to start working on a patient-focused venture during my time here at Yale. With that as the end goal, I’m finding the combination of the M.B.A. and M.P.H. to be invaluable; I’m learning the fundamentals of building a business at SOM, while my YSPH studies are allowing me to explore all of the intricacies of our health care system, including topics such as disparities, delivery and access to care.
What advice or guidance can you share for other women who are either going through breast cancer treatment or who have a history of breast cancer in their families and are concerned?
H.M.: The first piece of advice I’d give: know that you are your own best advocate. If you feel something unusual or know you have a history of breast cancer in your family, talk to your health care provider about your options for undergoing an exam or genetic testing to understand your risk. I was told numerous times that the lump I found couldn’t be anything serious because of my age and family status—and if I hadn’t pushed to be seen, things would look very different for me today.
Second, for anyone seeking support in their cancer patient/prevention journey, there are incredibly active communities of individuals affected by breast cancer, such as The Breasties (serving mainly young women) or For The Breast of Us (serving BIPOC women). When I was first diagnosed at 28, I figured I’d never meet anyone who could possibly understand what I was going through; instead, one of the most positive outcomes of my patient journey has been the relationships I’ve formed with women around the globe who have undergone similar experiences.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
H.M.: As you’ve mentioned, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM): a designation that elicits a lot of complicated feelings in our community. When BCAM was established in the 1980s, it was an important tool in raising awareness for the disease and for strategies around early detection. The attention that BCAM has brought to our cause can’t be underestimated—with 1 in 8 women diagnosed with breast cancer, campaigns like this are critical—but we have to shift our attention from pink-ribbon-branded merchandise to the most pressing issues facing our community today, such as racial disparities in outcomes. I’d encourage anyone looking to engage in BCAM this year to invest in research, not products, and to focus specifically on efforts to eliminate the race gap in treatment and mortality rates.
More information about breast cancer and where to send donations in support of breast cancer research can be found on the Breast Cancer Research Foundation website.