Click photo to enlarge
Heather Goff, 26, shows off her license plate idea across her back to get the word out about breast cancer in Oakley, Calif., on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012. The Oakley mother was diagnosed with breast cancer two weeks after her mother succumbed to the disease in December 2010. After having her breasts, ovaries and uterus removed and going through chemotherapy treatments she now has a clean bill of health. Goff has turned her attention to getting the iconic pink ribbon signifying the need for a cure on California license plates. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Staff)

OAKLEY -- Heather Goff is missing some parts, but she still has every bit of her gumption.

Over the past 21 months, the young Oakley mother has lost one breast to cancer and has had the other removed along with her uterus and both ovaries as a preventive measure.

Now Goff, 26, is continuing the fight against breast cancer along with several other women by asking the state to issue license plates bearing the iconic pink ribbon that has become an international symbol of support for those with the disease.

In addition to generating revenue for the services cancer patients need, Goff hopes the specialized plates will remind women to be proactive.

"If we get one person when they're taking a shower to feel themselves up, that's a good start," she said.

It was during a self-exam that Goff discovered her own tumor just weeks after her mother had lost a 13-year battle with breast cancer.

"To me it was huge," she said of the gumball-size mass she felt in her right breast.

At first Goff doubted her sanity, thinking that grief and fear were causing her to imagine the worst.

But when her fiancé and a friend who's a nurse both confirmed there was a lump, Goff saw her doctor, who immediately ordered an MRI and, the day after that, a biopsy.

Blood tests revealed that she had inherited the mutated gene responsible for her mother's death, a defect that renders the body incapable of holding tumors in check.


Advertisement

Goff is among the 7 to 8 percent of breast cancer patients who carry this gene; a sizable majority of these cases -- 70 to 75 percent -- don't have any genetic link, according to oncologist Shoba Kankipati, whom Goff saw for genetic counseling.

But of those born predisposed to cancer, individuals with changes in the genes known as BRCA1 and BRCA2 run a particularly high risk of developing cancer: As many as 60 out of every 100 of them will develop ovarian cancer and up to 80 percent will be diagnosed with breast cancer, Kankipati said.

News that she was a carrier only steeled Goff's resolve to have a double mastectomy even though the tumor was still localized, a decision she had made when her mother's cancer reappeared in her other breast after a four-year hiatus.

"I knew if anything ever happened I would take both of them off," said Goff, adding that she never wavered. "Not for a second! I'm very strong-willed," she laughed.

After the surgery in March 2011, she underwent 3½ months of chemotherapy followed by half a dozen reconstructive procedures. That October, Goff, who has a 6-year-old daughter, had her ovaries and uterus removed despite doctors' recommendation that she wait until she was 35 in case she decided she wanted more children. Her genetic counselor also told her that she isn't statistically likely to develop ovarian cancer until then, Goff said.

"Statistically. I love that word," she said sarcastically.

Now that she's turned the odds in her favor, Goff has focused her attention on keeping the need for prevention and a cure in the public eye.

At an American Cancer Society fundraiser last summer, she met several local women who had been diagnosed with the disease.

Since then, they have participated in breast cancer awareness events that the Oakland A's and San Francisco Giants have held, in one case joining other women in matching T-shirts to form a giant pink ribbon on the field during a pre-game ceremony.

A member of Goff's group floated the idea of pushing for license plates that would support their cause, as 11 special interest groups already have done.

After contacting the California Department of Motor Vehicles to find out what the process entails, the group found a graphic design college instructor who volunteered to create a website for the cause along with business cards and fliers and set up a Twitter account. She also created a Facebook page, which the women used to solicit designs for the license plate and hold a contest for the best one.

Earlier this month, Goff and her friends met with state Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, who agreed to introduce a bill next year authorizing the issuance of the special plate if legislation is required.

Buchanan also offered to help the women find a state agency that's willing to collect the prepaid orders and administer the proceeds from the sale of the plates.

Once the state has received at least 7,500 requests, DMV will start producing the plates.

Like Goff, Discovery Bay's Heather McCullough -- a 37-year-old mother of four who also had both breasts and her reproductive organs removed to hinder the recurrence of her Stage IV cancer -- has no doubt that the revenue would make a difference.

And she, too, believes the license plates themselves could be lifesaving reminders.

"If somebody's driving behind a pink plate, I'm hoping it will make a woman think, 'Gosh, it's time for me to get my mammogram,'" McCullough said.

Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her on Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.

PINK PLATES
If you'd like to help Heather Goff and her friends in their efforts to direct more public attention -- and dollars -- to combating breast cancer, you can reach them through the group's website: californiapinkplate.com.
You can pre-order a license plate on the site or donate directly to the cause, as well as follow the women's activities on Twitter and Facebook.