Cary high school student starts breast cancer nonprofit

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CARY, N.C. (WTVD) -- She's a teenager but Ava Jeffs is a local high school student who isn't waiting until she's an adult to change the world.

She's already founded a nonprofit that is working to ensure breast cancer care reaches marginalized communities.

Doctors are concerned that breast cancer will be on the rise with so many women putting off exams during the pandemic.

But the truth is women in marginalized communities have been doing that for years because many don't have insurance and can't afford to pay out of pocket for examinations.

"Their mortality rates are a lot higher because their breast cancer is not being detected as early as women that were able to get those screenings earlier," said Jeffs, a student at Cary's Green Hope High School. "And so and this is something that's really important to us."

"Us" is the 16-year-old Jeffs and 72-year-old Marge Morena, both of Cary.

Morena is cancer survivor.

And Jeffs is a high school junior.

They joined forces to create a nonprofit called Generations United for awareness, hope and a cure.

When Jeffs showed up at the Duke Cancer Institute recently to deliver chemo care packages, Duke employee Leslie Love rolled up with a cart to collect and deliver them.

They paused long enough for Jeffs to talk to a reporter for this story.

Leslie Love waited patiently and listened attentively.

"With the mobile mammogram unit at UNC Rex, we directly fundraise money for that unit so we can pay for women in underserved communities to get free mammograms," Jeffs said.

Under a dual enrollment arrangement, Jeffs also attends the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham.

She learned about cancer rates in a computer science class.

"I've done research on this the past couple years at the School of Science and Math, on these different disparities such as racial and low income women, and looking at the age that they get diagnosed and also the stage that they get diagnosed." Jeffs said. "And what I found through this research is that women of certain racial groups and of certain income groups, especially low income areas are getting detected a lot later."

When the interview ended, Love approached Jeffs and embraced her.

She choked up telling the teenager a condensed version of her own cancer journey and repeated it to the reporter.

"She told my story," Love said. "As an African American woman six years ago, I was going through a transition of jobs and I had no insurance. The first year I decided I'm not going to get a mammogram, I refuse to get a mammogram, I don't have the money, I don't have the income."

Fortunately, a friend told her how she could get a free mammogram which may have saved her life because doctors discovered aggressive cancer.

"It possibly could have been metastasized. So I give thanks for this program and my new friend," Love said.

After they separated they made a pledge.

"We need to stay in touch," Love said.

Jeffs responded: "Yes, we do, of course. Actually, I want to give you my email and my phone number right now."

Love plans to lend a helping hand at Generations United and Jeffs is happy to be able to work with another survivor, something her mom's mom wasn't.

The teen said she was inspired to do this work in part to honor the grandmother she never knew.

He maternal grandmother, Peggy Porter, was just 32 when she died of breast cancer on Christmas day 1974.

Jeffs' mom was only 11, the oldest of three children.

"I didn't even get to know her but that generational impact that it had on my mom and then me has been overwhelming and so that's something that's been really important to me," she said.

Jeffs says her mother has spent her life doing for her children what cancer didn't allow her grandmother to do for her mom and her siblings.

"One of my main goals with this organization is to make sure that women that are currently going through breast cancer know that we are there for them, and we are fighting for them, and then also to raise money to hopefully find a cure, one day," she said.

And it wouldn't be a surprise if in the next decade she's helping lead that effort since she has her on eye on a medical degree.
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