Jen Kehm had just turned 36 years old when she found a lump on her breast.

Her children, three boys were 5, 3 and 1, and she simply did not have time for breast cancer.

Besides, she reasoned that she was too young for the cancer.

Today, 15 years later and after a mastectomy, chemotherapy and reconstructive surgery, Jen knows that breast cancer strikes young women too.

She and her friend, Lisa Edmonds, launched the Young Women’s Breast Cancer Awareness Fund in Pittsburgh in 2005 to help young women affected by breast cancer and to raise awareness that the disease affects women who are under 40.

The group’s dominant message is to “be vigilant no matter what age you are.”

In addition to events to raise awareness in the medical community and elsewhere about how the cancer can plague young women, Jen runs a monthly support group for women who have the disease.

“We compare stories. We talk about the different side effects of medicines. We share the various options for treatment,” she said.

Jen said there are several breast cancer awareness groups, but her group’s goals are different because they are focused on “young women.”

“Most people think that breast cancer in young women isn’t a big deal. In fact, you aren’t even told that you have to get a mammogram until you turn 40,” she said. “It used to be that doctors would turn away women who thought that they had a problem.”

The group meets once a month at the Covelli-owned South Hills Panera.

“We love meeting there because the other option is for us to meet at a hospital and that wasn’t right for our members,” she said. “It’s very important that we can meet in a nice place like Panera.”

But Covelli does more than just supply meeting space for the group.

Covelli’s Panera has partnered with the Young Women’s Cancer Awareness Fund for eight years and has contributed more than $150,000 to the organization.

One major event that the group holds each year revolves around the Pink Ribbon classic bagel event.

Volunteers from the Young Women’s Breast Cancer Awareness group go to all of the Panera Bread restaurants in the Pittsburgh area and talk to customers about breast cancer.

“It’s a really fantastic day. Men will share stories that are inspirational or gut wrenching,” she said.

Some years, as much as $60,000 has been raised for the group through the bagel sales.

The group’s annual budget is $200,000 and Jen said she is currently working with about 100 women.

She worries that she is getting too old to fit the needs of the organization. At 51, she has been a survivor for 15 years and has clear memories of what it was like to be a breast cancer sufferer at a time when only few are actually receiving treatment.

“ I am growing out of my own demography, she said.” “I am 51.”

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