Breast Cancer: 10 Years of Progress

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In the last few years, efforts to push for more research and to contribute to the cause have surfaced in myriad forms from around the world. Some examples:

Breast Cancer Group Photo
Enlarge Image

After learning breast cancer spread
to her brain, Florence Mink (left)
welcomed 22
friends to the New Jersey
shore in 2004.

  • 3M this year will erect what the company is calling the World's Largest Pink Ribbon in Times Square, New York City -- a sculpture of sorts that will stand over 70 feet tall and consist of more than 75,000 pink Post-it notes. The sculpture will be unveiled during the first week of October, and 3M will donate $1 to City of Hope Cancer Center in California for each of the first 75,000 people who sign up to show their support for "sticking up" for breast cancer.
  • The Susan G. Komen Foundation's Race for the Cure Series this year will include 110 runs and fitness walks across the United States, plus two overseas events, and will draw more than 1.4 million participants. In 1983, the first Race for the Cure in Dallas, Texas, attracted 800 people.
  • Last fall, debuted its Celebrity Talking Dictionary, for which 59 celebs, from Celine Dion to Courteney Cox, pronounce and define more than 1,000 breast cancer medical terms, then talk about the power of knowledge in making decisions with their physicians.
  • The new biography, Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy (St. Martin's Press, October 2004), by Geralyn Lucas, will be published in conjunction this fall with "courage nights" on October 21 in Betsey Johnson stores and other venues around the country. Lucas lost her right breast to cancer at age 28, just months after landing her dream job. But she went on to have a baby and breast reconstruction, opting for a heart tattoo in place of a new nipple. Courage nights are meant to empower women of all ages while they shop for the breast cancer cause.
  • To help raise money, more cosmetic companies than ever are donating a portion of their proceeds from the sale of specially created items, as well as existing favorites, for breast cancer research, prevention, and treatment. Joining beauty giants Estee Lauder and Avon, who together have raised over $392 million, are Aromafloria and Essence of Heaven, two up-and-coming cosmetic companies. Sephora, the cosmetics company, also is releasing a range of products -- from a pop-up travel brush to Heart-to-Tarte lip balm -- from which profits will go to various breast cancer awareness and support organizations. Fund recipients include the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which has raised over $92 million in the last 10 years, and the Susan G. Koman Breast Cancer Foundation, which has raised $600 million since 1982. Likewise, since 1982, the Avon Foundation Breast Cancer Crusade has contributed over $300 million in funds.
  • Weiss' heartfelt and humorous performance-speech, "How to Talk to Your Doctor: A Guide to Creating a Great Doctor-Patient Relationship," will be available online and in VCR and DVD formats through this fall. In the video, Weiss strips from her doctor's coat down to a patient gown while telling women how to speak to their doctors about breast cancer, has been given to tens of thousands of women worldwide, and will be available online and in VCR and DVD formats through this fall.
  • This October 28 marks the fifth annual "WomenRock! Songs from the Movies," a TV concert event dedicated to raising awareness of the fight against breast cancer.
  • Ford, the automaker, has united with celebrities Claire Danes, Demi Moore, Jennifer Connelly, and Mary Blige, to create and market a limited-edition silk scarf designed by Lilly Pulitzer that invites women to "put the brakes" on breast cancer. Eighty-five percent of proceeds will go to the Komen Foundation.
  • Meanwhile, thousands of women from all 50 states and around the world have sewn 24,504 quilt blocks and assembled 400 quilts as part of the American Patchwork & Quilting 2004 Quilt for the Cure Quilt Block Challenge. The quilts of all sizes, primarily in pink and white, will be auctioned on eBay during October 2004 to raise money for breast cancer research.

    "We are so thrilled and touched," said Executive Editor Heidi Kaisand (the quilting magazine is owned by Meredith Corp., which also owns "And it wasn't just the tremendous number of squares that touched us, but also the stories and messages that were sent along with their works." Quilt blocks came from Girl Scout troops in Maine and from distant corners of the globe, many with highly personal notes about how the sewers' own lives or those of loved ones had been touched by breast cancer. For instance: "Please help Aunty Kim," said the note pinned to one block. One quilt shop in Humble, Texas submitted 901 blocks for the project.

And in recent years, individual women, from tiny towns and major metropolises, have gone public on Internet message boards, a practice almost unthinkable less than five years ago. For instance, with less than a week's notice, 22 cyberfriends of Florence Mink, 53, of North Wildwood, New Jersey, convened at the Jersey shore for a week this past June to support her through treatment for breast cancer that had just spread to her brain. "It was the most wonderful thing," says Mink, who is now undergoing one regimen of chemotherapy to attack the cancer in her brain and another because the cancer has metastasized to her bones. "These were women I'd never met in person, and the outpouring of friendship was truly overwhelming." Mink organized parties, gourmet dinners, casino trips, and dancing; her cyberfriends, all battling breast cancer, range in age from 19 to 67.

Other women have organized charity events to celebrate the lives of loved ones battling the disease. For the past eight years, the family of Debbie Osborne, 49, of Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, has hosted a charity bike ride for family, friends, and bikers far and wide. They have raised more than $50,000. "I can either plan my funeral or work to help plan events like this," says Osborne, a registered nurse whose sister-in-law, Nancy, started the event with 30 bikers; this October, more than 100 will participate. "It's a terrible disease, but I just try to put my scared and frightened thoughts in a dark corner and stay positive and hopeful, trying to help other women." Adds her sister, "It's a day of fun, fellowship, laughter, and family. The fundraising is secondary."

The advocacy movement also has spawned petitions in Congress. Last September, for instance, Lifetime Television delivered more than 5 million petition signatures to Capitol Hill, urging Congress to ban so-called "drive-through" mastectomies -- the practice in which women are forced out of the hospital sometimes only hours after breast cancer surgery.

Numerous organizations now distribute awards to survivors, researchers, physicians, and treatment facilities that are passionately committed to the cause of finding a cure for breast cancer.

Experts are chagrined that there still is no cure, or cures, for breast cancer -- still the leading killer of women between 35 and 50 years of age. But they see immense hope in the decade to come with the mapping of the human genome and the study of so-called protein profiles (proteomics) that may allow the development of new screening tools and targeted therapy that will move patients away from more radical procedures and toxic treatments.

Continued on page 3:  Progress


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