The Harold Leever Regional Cancer Center

Remembering Dr Nancy Cappello

Activist, Warrior, Trailblazer

It is with deep sadness, tremendous respect, and immeasurable gratitude that we pause to honor the life and work of Dr. Nancy M. Cappello, who changed the way we look at breast cancer.

Dr. Cappello was a special education teacher and administrator in 2004 when a physical exam and subsequent ultrasound led to a diagnosis of advanced breast cancer, a condition that was not seen on two separate mammograms because, her doctors explained, the tumor was obscured by her dense breast tissue. Nancy made it her mission to educate patients, physicians, insurers, and legislators about both the limitations of mammograms, and the number of women — nearly 40 percent of those seeking mammograms — whose dense breast tissue may compromise the effectiveness of the test. Nancy worked with state legislators and medical experts to effect change; in 2009 Connecticut became the first state to require doctors to tell women if they have dense breasts and to require insurance companies cover ultrasound scans for those who do.

The response across the nation was overwhelming: Nancy left teaching and founded Are You Dense? — a nonprofit education and advocacy group dedicated to impacting legislation beyond Connecticut’s borders. Nancy testified before state legislatures (more than 35 have enacted policy changes) and addressed medical conferences in the United States, Japan, France, Italy, and Canada. Nancy died in 2018 from complications of her 2004 cancer treatment, leaving an indelible mark on the medical community and a legacy of lives both changed and saved across the globe. Her husband, Joe, is continuing her work.