"Be The CEO of Your Own Body" -An Interview With Alejandra Campoverdi

Photo Courtesy of Alejandra Campoverdi

Photo Courtesy of Alejandra Campoverdi

Alejandra Campoverdi is a woman who has dedicated her life to speaking up for her community. She's done this in numerous roles, such as former White House Deputy Director of Hispanic Media for President Obama,  Commissioner for the California Children and Families Commission, US Congress Candidate in California during a special election in 2017, and most recently as the founder of The Well Woman Coalition. Through this initiative, she acts as a tireless advocate to empower women of color to have agency over their own health and healing.

We had the opportunity to speak with Alejandra, and learn more about the drive behind her courage, read on for this impressive dose of motivation.

In 2013, genetic testing confirmed Alejandra was positive for the BRCA gene mutation, which meant she was at a much higher risk of developing breast cancer than someone without the genetic mutation. Both her mother and grandmother had battled breast cancer, and she decided to get tested to take control of her own body.

Our conversation began by addressing what this diagnosis has meant in her life: "I honestly feel fortunate to have been given a heads-up on my predisposition to breast cancer. Learning this information was ultimately empowering because, even though it can be scary, it allows you to be proactive and take action."

Fear of getting tested is something Alejandra knows all about, "I understand the fear around knowing your results. Even today there are people in my family who keep putting off taking the test," she mentioned. "But what I would say to someone who is high risk yet on the fence about whether or not to take the test is -wouldn't you rather know so you can be more vigilant? What you do after learning your results is a very personal decision but when it comes to hereditary cancer, information is power.” 

Alejandra decided she would have a preventive double mastectomy to lower her risk of developing breast cancer from 85 percent to under 3 percent. Her doctor advised her that breast cancer tends to show up around 10 years younger with each generation so Alejandra scheduled her surgery accordingly in October 2018.

This part of Alejandra's story is astonishing. When she decided to get the preventive double mastectomy, she went in thinking just that, that it was preventive. Never in her life would she have imagined her doctor would call back six days later with the news that her tests had come back, showing the presence of Stage 0 breast cancer. "It blew my mind to find out I already unknowingly had breast cancer," she recalled. "I had a mammogram, an ultrasound, and a breast MRI prior to the surgery and they all came back negative, so that was the last thing I expected to hear," she said.  

"Ultimately, after dealing with the initial shock of receiving a 'past-tense' breast cancer diagnosis, I felt so incredibly grateful that I listened to my intuition and went forward with the surgery...it was such a testament to how important it is to take preventive action.” Because she had already had a preventive surgery, Alejandra did not need to do chemo or radiation. “I beat breast cancer before I knew I had it.”

This unimaginable anecdote wonderfully brings to life the mantra Alejandra is championing through social media and The Well Woman Coalition: "Be the CEO of your own body." We spoke a bit about where this idea first came from. "Watching so many women in my family battle breast cancer, I've seen the sense of helplessness that often accompanies illness. While you can't control every aspect of your health, you do control how you respond to it. I’ve chosen to approach this difficult moment as one that can be empowering and I’m committed to finding ways to spread a message of empowered health to our community.” 

Photo by The L.A. Times, courtesy of Alejandra Campoverdi

Photo by The L.A. Times, courtesy of Alejandra Campoverdi

Expanding further on the inspiring mission of The Well Woman Coalition, Alejandra addressed the power of this mantra (Be the CEO of your own body) for Latinas, and specifically immigrant Latinas that have very few options when it comes to healthcare in the US. "Because of a lack of access to quality healthcare and because cultural differences can sometimes lead to feelings of discomfort or distrust around doctors...many times as women we are simultaneously dealing with not only illness in our bodies but also the trauma of feeling dismissed and ignored. I strongly believe in the mind-body connection when you're fighting disease, and if you feel unheard or powerless, that does affect your healing and health."

Taking this idea from theory to practice means a few things for Alejandra: "Whether it’s by taking a genetic test, scheduling your annual pap smear, or a staying on top of your mammograms, being preventive about our health makes all the difference. Also, it’s so incredibly important to speak up when something feels off in our bodies. We are our own best health advocates. My grandmother said nothing when she first found a lump in her breast because she didn’t have health insurance and didn’t want to burden our family to pay out of pocket for a mammogram. By the time she went to the doctor, it was too late.”

Thanks to the efforts of Alejandra, obtaining this information is becoming more accessible for Latinx people who frequently confront language barriers. Recently, in partnership with the Basser Center for BRCA at Penn Medicine, she founded Latinx & BRCA, the first BRCA awareness campaign targeted towards the Latinx community. You can access Spanish-language materials here.

Community is a big thing for Alejandra, and she's emphasized this by frequently repeating that "when you chose yourself, you choose your entire community." This is something she's confirmed as someone in the fourth generation of her family who's had breast cancer. "By healing yourself, you're also healing both your ancestors and your grandchildren. Understanding this really struck me. It gave me a sense of responsibility to not only stop the tradition of disease and trauma in my family, but to also reroute and redirect it. And that gives meaning to this entire experience."

*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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