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It’s a truth universally acknowledged that all Penn students start listening when they hear the words “free dinner.” So when I learned there was a Women’s Center event complete with pizza for undergrad and grad students, I was in.

The event’s title was “Breast Cancer 101,” so I expected to be in for a dull night. I thought it was weird that the Women’s Center would host an information session for 18- through 20-year-olds when, in my mind, they should have scheduled it for over parents’ weekend.

Still, friends of mine have lost mothers to breast cancer, so I thought I might pick up a few tips on how to help those affected by the disease. And I did. But to my surprise, I walked out of the Women’s Center with a whole lot more than I’d bargained for.

Although the speaker, Philip Kivitz, a California-based diagnostic radiologist and Stanford clinician, told the mostly-undergrad audience that developing breast cancer under the age of 30 is rare, he cautioned that the fight against breast cancer begins now.

Drawing on his long career as a consultant, Kivitz informed us that by the age of 20, we need to begin performing those monthly breast self-examinations that many of us have heard about but haven’t taken seriously.

I was in for a major dose of reality when Kivitz shared that there have been times when even he hasn’t been able to determine if a lump was cancerous. But a woman who’s done years of self-examination can tell if something’s up.

Before you start developing irregularities, though, there are preventive measures that all women can take. Female students must act now to “build healthy bodies” as a defense, Kivitz said.

So, while researchers at Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center continue to look for ways help mitigate the pain associated with the treatment of breast cancer, women need to work to reduce their chances of getting the illness altogether — a seemingly daunting task when you’re busy writing term papers and cramming for midterms. College sophomore Hannah Peterson said that “while you’re in college, it’s very difficult to think about how your lifestyle now can impact your life in the long run, but through events like this it makes it very apparent.” And it’s time we all took note.

While Kivitz said 10 percent of breast cancer cases are due to genetic predisposition, the other 90 percent are where our efforts to reduce our risk of developing breast cancer count. He assured us that a few changes in our lifestyles could go a long way in helping us not become one of the one in eight women in the U.S. who gets breast cancer.

So, that means not making food trucks a daily stop (I know, sounds like torture, but Subway’s not a bad alternative). And while most students already visit Pottruck a few times weekly, Kivitz’s advice heightens the urgency beyond just looking good on Saturday night.

When many of us had exams later that week, Kivitz’s final tip — reducing stress — might have seemed impractical. But while acknowledging that exam stress is understandable, Kivitz still encouraged women to stay cool even when the oven’s hot.

During his talk, Kivitz encouraged audience members to tell five more people about cancer awareness, in order to make active prevention the norm. And you’re my five people. So tell your roommate, your girlfriend, your lab partner that college women need to start now. Admittedly, it seems kind of awkward, but they’ll thank you in the long run.

At the conclusion of “Breast Cancer 101,” Kivitz calmly looked across the room at the nearly empty pizza boxes and assured us that pizza once in a while never hurts. But I decided to start my own fight against breast cancer (admittedly a small step) right then and there. I passed up on a second slice, controlling my consumption of high-fat foods. Well … at least for that night.

Maya Brandon is a College freshman from West Windsor, N.J. Her e-mail address is

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