A family’s history of cancer. And its hope for the future.

Thanks to online tools like ancestry.com and popular TV shows like “Finding your Roots,” learning one’s family history is all the rage these days. Unfortunately for Denika Lundy, of Syracuse, she gained a greater understanding of her family tree through the family’s intergenerational battle with cancer.

If you were listening to the Upstate Foundation’s inaugural “Call In For Cancer” fundraiser last fall, you heard her amazing story of survival.

“My great-grandmother, grandmother and two great-aunts, mother, aunt and two sisters all suffered from, and all but myself and my sister Aimee, eventually succumbed to either ovarian or breast cancer far too early in life,” Lundy said.

Against that backdrop, Lundy was 27 when she discovered a lump in her breast; she was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. She underwent three months of chemo-therapy, a bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. 

Now 45 years old, Lundy’s annual visits to – and a rigorous range of tests from – Upstate Cancer Center confirm she’s been cancer free for 18 years now. While she was not treated at the Upstate Cancer Center for breast cancer, she is grateful for the care and compassion she receives in all of her follow-up visits.

“Denika’s story and the devastating losses her family has suffered are heart wrenching,” said Bethann Kistner, the Upstate Foundation development officer who spearheaded Call In For Cancer, which raised funds for the Upstate Cancer Center. 

At the heart of that story? A genetic predisposition to breast and ovarian cancer often experienced by women whose lineage includes Ashkenazi Jews. As daunting as it is for her to have inherited this genetic trait, Denika has proven herself to be a survivor in more ways than one.

“I am an active advocate and educator for women like me, who are facing a diagnosis of cancer,” she recently said about her educational outreach efforts, which keep her busy in the Central New York region and have even taken her as far afield as Africa to speak on the subject. “Whether it’s presenting at schools, driving someone to the hospital, accompanying them to doctor appointments or holding a hand before or after surgery… I just try to offer a little hope, love and light.”

The Upstate Foundation’s inaugural fundraiser “Call In For Cancer” in 2019 featured survivor Denika Lundy, who has faced a relentless, hereditary form of breast cancer that has ravaged her family. Fortunately, she’s relentless in her own right – with an ongoing, personal cancer awareness crusade of advocacy, education and empathetic outreach. 


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