Stories about breast cancer that can inspire and inform

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Pillars of Hope

While browsing her Facebook news feed in April of 2022, Jaya Kataria came across a post from a friend who shared the unfortunate news that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Seeing the post prompted Jaya to schedule a mammogram for herself, which is where her breast cancer journey began.

“My previous mammogram was in 2019, and the results were normal. But the Facebook post prompted me to get one scheduled right away,” she said. After the mammogram, she received a note from her doctor asking her to schedule a follow-up appointment for an ultrasound to further assess a lesion that was seen on the mammogram. Jaya shared the results with her husband and sister, both physicians, and they advised her the doctor had asked for more imaging as a precautionary measure.

After the ultrasound, she was shocked when the radiologist came in and told her she would need a needle biopsy of a mass they had observed. “The radiologist told me that the mass was suspicious for cancer and a biopsy was standard to determine if it was benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous),” Jaya said. “I was very concerned and thought the worst, but I kept telling myself that it was going to be benign. After all, I couldn’t feel a lump and had felt completely normal with no symptoms.”

When the results of the biopsy came back, Jaya was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, stage 2. She was in utter disbelief and completely shaken up, but shock soon gave way to determination. “I knew I had to be strong for my son.”

Jaya’s son, Rishi, was just 13 when his mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. “It was heartbreaking. We had learned a bit about cancer in school, and I knew it could be a devastating disease,” he said. “It’s natural to think of the worst and while I was very scared of the unknown, I had to be strong for my mom and help her through treatment.” 

Jaya’s treatment plan began with five months of immunotherapy and chemotherapy followed by a lumpectomy. After she recovered from surgery, she began radiation and completed treatment with a second round of immunotherapy in June of 2023, a year after her diagnosis.

Watching his mom go through treatment and the side effects she experienced was not easy for Rishi, now 15. “Some days were good, some days weren’t. There were even days that she couldn’t get out of bed.” Seeing his mom’s strength and determination to get through her treatment – and the love and support given to her by friends, family and the community inspired him to find a way to give back and support others affected by breast cancer.

“I didn’t want to just do a fundraiser and ask people for donations,” he said. “I wanted to do something unique to support breast cancer research. I finally decided that I would make and sell candles and created Pillars of Hope.” Through Pillars of Hope, Rishi creates intricately designed candles in scents ranging from sandalwood to lemongrass to lavender in a precise, four to five-hour process. “If you add the flowers too early, you are going to ruin the candle, and if you put them in too late, they aren’t going to look right. It’s a process where you have to be fully attentive and constantly aware of the stages, so you put in the scents and flowers in at the exact right time,” Rishi explained.

Pillars of Hope launched on Instagram in August 2023 and in his first month, Rishi sold more than 80 candles and raised more than $4,500; money which he is donating to Susan G. Komen.

Jaya could not be prouder of her son for his efforts. “Rishi always had this calm composure when he interacted with me. The maturity he has shown over the last year has been amazing and I am so proud of him for coming up with this idea to give back to help others going through breast cancer.”

Statements and opinions expressed are that of the individual and do not express the views or opinions of Susan G. Komen. This information is being provided for educational purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice. Persons with breast cancer should consult their healthcare provider with specific questions or concerns about their treatment.