Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Cate Edwards To Advanced Breast Cancer Patients: You’re Not Alone

October 10, 2013 at 6:15 pm , by

Back in 2004, on the same day the Democratic ticket lost the bid for the White House, Elizabeth Edwards was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had been campaigning tirelessly with her husband Sen. John Edwards, the Democratic nominee for Vice President. You’d think a lost election and a breast cancer diagnosis would slow someone down, but it wasn’t so for Elizabeth.

Over the next two years, while she was being treated and monitored for her disease, she became a tireless advocate for women’s health, published a best-selling book and started back on the campaign trail with John when he ran for President.

Her oldest daughter, Cate (right), remembers how at first, her mom thought of her cancer as something she’d have to deal with for a while but ultimately would conquer. Then in 2007, after she’d been in remission for a while, Elizabeth learned that her cancer had spread. It sunk in that she’d be living with breast cancer for the rest of her life. “It was a big change in how my whole family thought about the disease,” Cate explains.

If you’re one of the thousands of women living with advanced breast cancer, or caring for a loved one with the disease, you’re probably very familiar with the change Cate is talking about.

This year about 230,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. New treatments and greater awareness have lead to better outcomes for early stage disease. But about 30 percent of those women may have their cancer return and metastasize, which is called advanced breast cancer. These women and their families face specific challenges and a lot of uncertainty—issues that aren’t a major focus in the “bigger pink movement,” Cate says.

“I had this notion in my head of breast cancer patients falling into two categories: you either become a survivor or you become someone who ‘lost their battle,’” she says. “And that’s just not true. There are so many people living with cancer.” That’s why Cate has joined forces with the Count Us, Know Us, Join Us campaign, a new effort sponsored by Novartis Oncology to raise awareness and connect advanced breast cancer patients to resources and foster community.

Elizabeth passed away in 2010, but not before making the most of her time left. She continued on the campaign trail with John, even amid rumors of his affair. She became President Obama’s adviser on health-care issues during his first campaign, and she published another best-selling book. She and John eventually separated after one of the ugliest public breakups in history. But she remained an inspiration, writing on her Facebook page the day before she died: “I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful.”

“She didn’t know how long she had, but she recognized that none of us do,” Cate says. “By watching her go through everything, I learned how to be strong, but also gentle and supportive in times of difficulty. Her mantra was to live every day with purpose, and she exemplified that.”

To learn more about the campaign, head to advancedbreastcancercommunity.org. You’ll find resources from  advocacy groups like breastcancer.org and The Breast Cancer Research Foundation, as well as info on navigating treatment and forums for connecting with other patients.


Avon’s New CEO Walks The Talk

October 24, 2012 at 4:48 pm , by

An army of soldiers, wearing everything from pink wigs and tutus to T-shirts with photos of loved ones, invaded New York City last weekend. They were there for the 10th annual Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, and the Journal team was there to capture it. We wanted to meet some of the women (and guys) who raised money to walk up to 26 miles around the island of Manhattan on Saturday, camp out on Randall’s Island and then finish with another 13-mile hike on Sunday. With that kind of commitment, we knew we were bound to find good stories.

We met a woman who signed up in honor of her grandmother and then got diagnosed herself before she finished fundraising. We met a woman with a pink ribbon tattoo on her ankle in memory of her mom, who lost her battle six years ago. We met a group of young men doing the walk for their girlfriends, sisters and mothers. (You’ll get to meet them all, too, in an upcoming issue.)

Sheri McCoy, Avon’s new CEO, joined the charge. She spoke at the opening ceremony and spent the day walking and talking with participants. I got to sit down and chat with McCoy, whose mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, after she crossed the finish line on day one (that’s her, above). “We had a woman tell her story on stage with me today who was diagnosed when she was only 27 years old. And the woman who spoke after me, her mother died just a few months ago. It was incredible that she was able to tell that story. I couldn’t have done it,” says McCoy, tearing up a little.

She clearly cares about this cause, as well as the more than 6 million Avon representatives she oversees, many of them women, across the United States and in countries all over the world. “As a manager, I want the people who work for Avon to be successful the same way I want my kids to be successful,” she says. “In motherhood and in business, you want to create an environment where people can achieve.” Her husband, who was the oldest of 13 kids growing up, did a lot of the childcare for their three boys, now 24, 22 and 20. “I’ve been fortunate to have the support—and to have worked for companies that are family friendly,” she says. “But I also had to learn to recognize what’s important, to prioritize and say no to things. It took maturity to say I can’t be perfect.”

During the week McCoy is up by 6 a.m. and often is in meetings or traveling until 9 p.m.. But the weekends are all hers. In addition to spending time with her boys, she’s a Zumba fanatic and bookworm. “Most of the time I have to read business journals and work-related things, so I love to pick up a James Patterson mystery. I can finish it in a few hours,” she says, smiling.

McCoy started her career at Johnson & Johnson as a scientist. She stayed with the company for 20 years, eventually leading the pharmaceutical division before coming to Avon in April. This was her first breast-cancer walk. “Avon has always been about empowering women,” she says. “Breast cancer is such a tough disease that touches so many people, so I wanted to be here. I’m inspired by the women participating, and I’m impressed that the foundation isn’t just working on awareness but getting the money to research and care.”

The New York City walkers raised an impressive $8.3 million this year. The majority goes to the Avon Foundation Breast Health Outreach Program, which focuses on screening and education. The rest goes to a variety of programs, including a grant to fund research on inflammatory breast cancer, a less common but very aggressive type of the disease, and support for women undergoing treatment.

Another pink October may be coming to a close, but McCoy is already looking ahead. “I walked with some women from California, and now I can’t wait to do the Santa Barbara walk next year,” she says.


Can We Prevent Breast Cancer?

October 4, 2012 at 1:18 pm , by

During one of her recent volunteer shifts at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, AnneMarie Ciccarella (right) visited a woman who was recovering from a mastectomy. “It was the same bed in the same room I woke up in six years ago to the day,” she says. “Stuff like that really gets to me: When are we going to figure this out? How can we end this?”

Breast cancer affects 1 in 8 women in their lifetime. This year, more than 220,000 American women will be diagnosed with it and 40,000 will die. When we met Ciccarella for our October issue story on breast cancer survivors, she said she’s so tired of hearing these numbers. We’ve got to find a way to stop breast cancer.

That’s where the Health of Women (HOW) study comes in, says Ciccarella, who serves as the New York volunteer team coordinator with the Love/Avon Army of Women. Launched by the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, the Army of Women has been enrolling women in different research projects since 2008. Now the foundation is launching its own study to follow a huge group of women over time to learn why the disease develops. The key to all this? Your participation.

Why It’s Important
Many breast cancer patients have no known risk factors. So, does where you work or how much you sleep affect whether you will get breast cancer? Can anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen reduce breast cancer risk? These are the types of thing we want to understand better, and the larger the group of women we study, the more we can learn, says Leslie Bernstein, Ph.D., professor and director of cancer etiology at the Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope in Los Angeles, a partner in the study.

How It Works
After you answer a questionnaire about your health history, the HOW study will send you e-mails every three to four months when a new module becomes available. The questionnaires are co-created by epidemiologists, statisticians and breast cancer advocates, and participants will have the opportunity to submit questions they want answered, says Naz Sykes, executive director of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation.

The researchers want to follow women for 20 years or more. It’s a commitment, but the modules only take a few minutes to answer. All of your data will be stored in your account and in a database available to researchers—without your name attached.

Where To Sign Up
Go to HealthofWomenStudy.org and create an account. Then get your friends involved. The researchers want healthy women from every ethnicity, plus breast cancer survivors, women with other health issues and even men who’ve had breast cancer. I’ve already enrolled and I hope you will, too. Head to the study’s helpful FAQs page for more info.

Photo by Avery Powell