NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. News 8 is looking at why it’s so important to know if you have dense breasts because a mammogram alone may not be enough to detect cancer.

Joe and Nancy Capello were high school sweethearts before settling in Southbury.

“We were married for 44 years before she got sick with breast cancer,” Joe said.

That diagnosis was a shock. Nancy ate well, and was healthy, but was diagnosed with Stage 3C breast cancer.

“The thing is, we couldn’t understand why it would be such a late-stage diagnosis because she did everything right,” Joe said. “Always had her screenings done.”

She was not told along the way, but Nancy had dense breast tissues. Experts say people with dense breasts are more likely to get breast cancer.

Joe and Nancy set out to educate as many people as they could about the dangers of dense breasts.

“She was diagnosed in 2004, and we went right to the legislature after she felt good,” Joe said. “[Nancy] was a go-getter and she was the dynamite.”

Nancy and Joe formed a non-profit called Are You Dense? and started lobbying state lawmakers. They ended up getting a state law passed, requiring insurance companies to cover MRIs and ultrasounds in addition to mammograms in women with dense breast tissue.

Joe and Nancy Capello

They wanted more. They wanted doctors to be required to disclose to women when they have dense breasts.

“So, the disclosure law was passed,” Joe said. “It was first in the nation. We started getting phone calls and emails from all over the country saying, ‘I want to do this in my state,’” Joe said.

Nancy passed away in 2018 at the age of 66.

Debbie Rosenthal did not know she had dense breasts, but that extra screening, the breast ultrasound she got due to the dense breast law, picked up her breast cancer at an early stage.

“They could have discovered it a year later, two years later, you know,” Rosenthal said. “More advanced treatments that would have been more harmful to me or maybe worse.”

Rosenthal’s advice to other women is to know their density.

“You should know if you have dense breasts. Talk about it with your doctor and seek other treatment because getting a mammogram, it was like Nancy always said, it’s like looking for a snowball in a snowstorm,” Rosenthal said.

Rosenthal is on the board of Are You Dense? to educate others. She’s doing well after just a lumpectomy and three radiation treatments.

In 16 years, the Connecticut Breast Health Initiative (CT BHI) awarded $4.1 million and 102 grants to breast cancer researchers in the state. All monies raised in Connecticut stay in Connecticut.

For answers to commonly asked questions about dense breasts, visit the National Cancer Institute’s website.