Claudia Marks named Honorary Walk Chair for 2022

By Melissa Johnson

Claudia Marks - 2022 Honorary Walk Chair
Claudia Marks – 2022 Honorary Walk Chair

Claudia Marks of Madison, Connecticut, has been named honorary walk chair for TBBCF’s 2022 Walk for a Cure on Saturday, Oct. 1. She plans to use her platform to teach cancer patients and their loved ones about the sometimes difficult process of advocating for themselves.

“For example, some patients are afraid to ask for a second opinion,” Claudia said. “They think their doctor will get mad at them.”

This fear is almost completely unfounded. In the January 2020 article “Can a Second Opinion Make a Difference?” published by the Yale School of Medicine, Dr. Anees Chagpar, a breast surgeon for Yale New Haven Health, says, “People are generally very nice, and they don’t want to hurt the first doctor’s feelings. But this is really common, and doctors won’t be offended. At the end of the day, you want to be sure that you are finding the right team for you, and that you are comfortable with the diagnosis and treatment plan you are being offered.”

The article mentions a 2017 study that showed “21% of patients who sought a second opinion at the Mayo Clinic left with a completely new diagnosis, and 66% were deemed partly correct, but refined or redefined by the second doctor.”

Claudia knows about reckoning with diagnoses and treatment plans. She has had Stage I bilateral breast cancer twice—the first time in 1993 when she was 42 and again in 2003 at age 53. Both times, she opted for lumpectomies with chemo, radiation and hormone therapy. She has a family history of the disease, including her great-grandmother; great-aunt; mother, who died at 50 of bilateral breast cancer; and a first cousin who died at 43. A second round of genetic testing revealed Claudia carries the BRCA1 genetic mutation. Her two daughters have been tested, and one is BRCA1 positive.

Meanwhile, Claudia schedules annual mammograms and breast MRIs to closely monitor and act, if needed, for treatment of a new cancer and/or preventive bilateral mastectomies. “Having the BRCA1 gene puts a life focus on breast cancer diagnosis not only for me but also for my daughters and their girls, my granddaughters,” she said.

If that weren’t enough, Claudia is also a nine-year Stage IV esophageal cancer survivor. She said, “These two cancers keep me focused on my health and any changing health indications. I am a very lucky woman, thanks to wonderful experience with diagnosis and treatments, to say that I am currently NED (No Evidence of Disease).”

These days, Claudia works for her daughter’s business, Aquinnah Jewelry. “She has trained me well in the processes of making some of her jewelry and participating in other aspects of the business,” Claudia said. “In addition, I make all of the fishtail bracelets, which are sold to raise money for various non-profits.” Claudia enjoys baking, walking, birding, photography and attending various exercise classes. She also loves spending time with her daughters and her grandchildren in Connecticut and Los Angeles.

On being selected as TBBCF’s honorary walk chair this year, Claudia said, “I am honored to be asked and to share my story of self-advocacy. I have been a true believer in the foundation’s cause and the importance of research to eradicate this and other horrible diseases. My hope is that sharing my cancer experiences, both breast and esophageal, and my use of self-advocacy to manage my treatments, can also help others through their cancer journey and advocate for themselves along the way.”

Plans are in the works for Claudia to share tips on self-advocacy. Stay tuned for more information as details are finalized.

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