Eight-year-old leads mission with Girl Scout troop to encourage others to get their annual mammogram

Her family’s experience with breast cancer inspires her to tell others about the importance of breast cancer screening

During a regular Girl Scout meeting in March 2023, Monica Papasian was the guest speaker that evening. She asked the troop to think of words they consider scary. Her 8-year-old daughter Olive and her fellow scouts were participating with intent. After the girls chose their “scary” words, Papasian revealed her word: cancer.

“My goal was to reassure the girls that they didn’t have to be fearful or afraid of the word cancer. I was a living, breathing example of that,” said Papasian.

“When my mom told me that she had breast cancer, it came as a shock to me, and I didn’t want it to come as a shock for other boys and girls with their moms,” expressed Olive, who was just 6 when her mother was diagnosed.

The Mission

A week later, the troop set up for their first cookie sale of the season. However, selling Girl Scout cookies was only one of many goals the girls had this year. They wanted to inform their customers about breast cancer screening and prevention. The girls attached information to every box of cookies and decorated their cookie booth with signs that read “I am raising awareness for,” along with the name of a breast cancer survivor. Karmanos Cancer Institute loaned a breast cancer screening banner to the Girl Scout troop to help the girls make an impact.

The girls didn’t stop at just educating their customers about breast cancer. They decided to give their cookie sale donations to Karmanos for breast cancer research. If customers didn’t want to purchase cookies for themselves, the troop offered the option of buying a cookie box for a Karmanos cancer patient to help brighten their day.

“Helping people is a hobby of mine,” explained Olive. “We wanted to make sure everyone could get access to care, and maybe that could be through the funds raised in the cookie sales.”

When Olive brought up the idea to educate the public about breast cancer among women and men, her troop leader, LaKeisha Sutton, backed her and the troop 100%.

“Breast cancer is very close to home for me,” shared Sutton. “When my sister was 33, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, so I make sure I head to Karmanos every year for my mammogram.”

When Sutton’s sister was diagnosed with breast cancer, she encouraged her to get a second opinion at Karmanos.

“That’s where she got her second opinion and then her treatment. Because of Karmanos, she has now been cancer free for seven years!” exclaimed Sutton.

Monica’s Journey

From the beginning of her breast cancer journey, Papasian was in the right place at the right time. As the director of accounting at Karmanos, she also makes sure to schedule her annual mammograms as advised. However, she received alarming news after a routine mammogram in February 2021.

Her radiologist told her that she would need additional imaging. Papasian began to get an idea of the details that would follow. She started thinking of her father, who passed away from lung cancer two years earlier. Six months before that, her uncle died battling pancreatic cancer.

She had no symptoms, and no family history of breast cancer. But at age 44, she heard that scary word – cancer.

“The cancer is an inconvenience because that’s exactly what it is; it’s not ideal. For me, it was all about perspective and keeping a positive outlook for my kids,” described Papasian. 

Her husband, daughter and son Charlie, who was 9 then, were her inspiration to fight her cancer.

“I knew I had the best support system, and I knew the best place to go for care. Plus, they caught it early.”

The Breast Cancer Multidisciplinary Team at Karmanos developed Papasian’s treatment plan. She received a successful lumpectomy in April 2021. After recovering from surgery, she went through 20 rounds of radiation treatments to pinpoint the cancerous cells.

“On my last day of radiation, my care team snuck my kids through the back door, so they could be there when I rang the bell. The highlight of everything for me was when I finished that treatment session. That’s when I heard my son over the loudspeaker saying, ‘You’re all done, Mom!’”

“At that point, we were celebrating the victory,” reflected Olive. 

Less than two weeks later, in July 2021, Papasian attended the ninth annual Pink Out the Park Night with her husband and children. Pink Out the Park Night is a themed Detroit Tigers game presented by Karmanos and McLaren Health Care.

“Pink Out the Park was a perfect way to wrap up this cancer journey; I thought it would be impactful for my kids, but it left a permanent impression on me, as well,” said Papasian.

Breast cancer survivors and fans get to participate in activities throughout the game, including a special pregame ceremony welcoming hundreds of breast cancer survivors on the field, ceremonial first pitches, in-game awareness moments, and a tribute to breast cancer survivors where fans hold up cheer cards during a moment of reflection.

“After I filled out my cheer card, the person at the sign station remarked, ‘This is probably the best sign I’ve seen all day,’” said Olive.

That same cheer card is now hanging in Papasian’s office next to a picture of a smiling 6-year-old Olive holding her sign.

“My kids got to see all the breast cancer survivors on the ballfield that night; it was reassuring to them that Mom is going to be OK,” said Papasian.

They’ve always shared a special bond as mother and daughter, but it became stronger after Papasian’s breast cancer diagnosis. As a Girl Scout, Olive’s mission is to help others who find themselves with the same unexpected news as her mom did just a couple of years before. And her mom is proud to see her daughter helping others.

“A familiar saying in our home is, ‘Kindness doesn’t cost anything.’ It’s so easy to spread the word, and it doesn’t cost you anything, and there’s no reason why we couldn’t use this platform to spread the word about breast cancer,” said Papasian.

Early detection of breast cancer is important because the disease is most treatable in the early stages. Karmanos recommends an annual screening mammogram beginning at age 40. Women with one or more risk factors for breast cancer should talk with their provider or a Karmanos expert about when to start getting mammograms.

Schedule your mammogram today in Detroit or Farmington Hills by calling 1-800-KARMANOS or visiting karmanos.org/breasthealth.