first_imgOne week after Christiaan Rollich met the petite, brown-eyed girl who would later become his wife, a friend snapped a picture of her at a Hollywood Halloween party. She was dressed as an angel, with white wings tied around her small shoulders and an enthusiastic smile splashed across her face. Who could have known that seven years later, Rollich would choose that photo – that picture of a smiling and angelic, 25-year-old Daylani Santos Rollich – to forever rest on her gravestone? “We didn’t know anything about breast cancer,” said Rollich, now 35 and living in Redondo Beach. “Nobody thought we had anything to worry about. Young girls don’t get breast cancer – that’s what we were told.” But they do. And she did. Santos Rollich died Feb. 20, 2006, about five years after she found the mosquito-bite-size lump in her right breast – and after countless doses of chemotherapy and radiation failed to eradicate the cancer. She was one of a minority. According to the American Cancer Society, only 6 percent (about 12,000) of the more than 200,000 new breast cancer cases every year occur in women younger than 40. That means, for men and women like Santos Rollich and her husband, there’s a shortage of information geared toward young women battling the disease. “There are Web sites,” Rollich said, “but they are all geared to post-menopausal women.” That’s something Rollich wants to change. Shortly before his wife died – and while she was still well enough to contribute her ideas – he and a group of friends formed the Beautiful Day Foundation (“Beautiful Day” was Rollich’s nickname for his wife). Its mission: to provide support to young women with breast cancer and to get the message out to other young women that breast cancer isn’t just something their mothers and grandmothers need to worry about; that it can happen to them, too. “You see your annual gynecologist and they just blow you off. Age-wise, they say, `Oh, you’re too young to worry about that,’ ” said Vienna Flores, 34, one of Santos Rollich’s friends, who now serves on the Beautiful Day Foundation board of directors. “So you just get that in your mind yourself. You’re not too concerned because you just assume when you’re young you’re invincible – and that’s not the case.” Making matters worse, young women tend to develop a more aggressive form of cancer and have a lower survival rate than their older counterparts. And because young women have a tendency toward cystic breasts (a benign condition), detection – by self-exam and yearly check-ups – is that much more difficult. “Unfortunately, there has been this misconception that you can be `too young’ for breast cancer,” said Dr. Ann Partridge, a medical oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, where more than 400 women under 40 belong to the hospital’s Young Women With Breast Cancer Coalition. “But that’s not true. I’ve seen women as young as 18 with breast cancer.” Partridge, who specializes in young women with the disease, said all women, regardless of age, should do regular self-examinations to recognize the normal feel of their breasts. “Any lumps or bumps that aren’t going away should be taken very seriously, even in a young woman,” she said. “Yes, the majority of those lumps and bumps aren’t going to be cancer, but early detection matters.” Santos Rollich was already in an advanced stage of cancer when she was diagnosed, a factor which may have led to the disease’s relentless progression from her breasts to her lymph nodes and then to her bones, her spine and, finally, her brain. “You think it gets easier, but it doesn’t,” said her husband, who still wears the white beaded rosary Santos Rollich was holding when she died. “I miss her with my heart, I miss her ring around my finger, I miss my partner, my buddy, my love, my beautiful wife, the love of my life.” Since the mission of the Beautiful Day Foundation is to educate, the organization sends doctors and nurses to college campuses, where they teach women how to conduct proper breast self-exams and how to be vigilant with their physicians should they find anything unusual. The Beautiful Day Web site ( contains information about the disease as well as a guide on “How to Deal” with a diagnosis and what to expect with the treatment. A glossary of terms deciphers a daunting dose of medical jargon, and an online forum allows women to communicate on topics ranging from emotional support to how to find “younger-looking” wigs. The Web site also contains advice from Santos Rollich herself. “Take this disease very seriously,” she said in a letter written months before her death. “Fight it with all your heart. Involve anybody who offers. Let them drive you to your chemo, your radiation or to your doctor’s appointments. It will be a hard fight, but it’s worth fighting.” Her words sit online beside that Halloween photo taken years ago, before any of this had happened. The angel in the picture smiles, brightly as ever. She says: “I’ll be watching over you.” Melissa Heckscher (310) 540-5511; [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img