As the summer wanes and October looms, I am struck once again about the fragmentation of the breast cancer advocacy movement. The history of activism dates well back to 1952 and the American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery when a doctor had to give permission for a post mastectomy woman to be seen by a volunteer, lest she be too distressed by the encounter. The Susan G Komen Foundation (now Komen for the Cure) started in 1983 to raise awareness. Others, such as the Women’s Community Cancer Project (Cambridge, Massachusetts), the Women’s Cancer Resource Center (Oakland, California), Breast Cancer Action (San Francisco), Y Me (Chicago), Mautner Project for Lesbians with Cancer (Washington, D.C.), and NABCO (New York) were focused on education and political action. As these groups sprang up around the country, it served as a tipping point in the battle for attention to the problem of breast cancer. These heady days led to the for the formation of the National Breast Coalition (1991), Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program (1992), the National Action Plan on Breast Cancer (1993), the California Breast Cancer Research Program (1993) and the Breast Cancer Stamp (1998). Many good women and men contributed to these early successes and we stand on their shoulders and by their sides.
Now as we head into October, anticipating the arrival of the pink tsunami, in some ways it feels like the original battle to end breast cancer has been co-opted by these annual celebrations of survival. The messages are incessantly upbeat and rarely mention that many women still go on to metastasize, many still die, and the “survivors” live with a new normal based on the collateral damage caused by their treatments. My recent experience with Leukemia has made me impatient and dissatisfied with the status quo. While many programs, such as the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s Deadline 2020 and our own Army of Women, are valiant efforts to move us to the goal, it is going to take more than that to get there.
The goal of ending breast cancer is too important to leave to any one group or approach. I think it’s time for the breast cancer organizations and foundations to start working together on projects that make sense. We need to find opportunities to collaborate and speak with one voice. We don’t need to agree on everything, but we do need to rise above our differences to find ways and projects that we can work on collectively. Only by working together will we ever be able to achieve the overriding goal we all share– a future without breast cancer!