By Chandini Portteus, Chief Mission Officer, Susan G. Komen
On Friday, May 16, 2014, I was honored to participate in a breast cancer panel and spend an evening with an amazing group of female Saudi leaders from all walks of life. Nearly 40 women from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia arrived just a couple of days earlier to take part in a 5-day leadership development course at GE’s Crotonville leadership academy outside of New York from May 14-18. On this Friday evening, we had an opportunity to discuss the importance of continuing to raise breast cancer awareness in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in our joint efforts to end breast cancer forever worldwide.
Integral to Susan G. Komen’s mission is our belief that where a woman lives shouldn’t determine whether she lives, which is why Komen continues to support activities outside the United States and is currently active in more than 30 countries around the world. Since 2011, Komen has been working closely with GE in Saudi Arabia to support the Ministry of Health’s breast cancer efforts. Our work through this partnership has three priorities – 1) implementing a public awareness campaign, 2) conducting call center training sessions, and 3) facilitating medical providers’ trainings.
The Ministry of Health has shared that more than 20,000 people were reached through these activities and over 11,000 women have been screened since the program launched on March 31, 2012. Highlighting the urgency to address breast cancer, which is the most common cancer and the leading cause of cancer death among women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Dr. Iman Baroum, Consultant Breast Radiologist and Chief of Central Coordination Unit for Jeddah Breast Cancer Screening Pilot Program with the Saudi Ministry of Health and one of the panelists, said that “We must be ready to face the challenge of foreseeable increase in breast cancer burden in the Kingdom; the success of pilot programs in Riyadh and Jeddah have reinforced the need for a national breast cancer screening program, which the Ministry of Health is now planning to deploy.”
Pat Pearman, GE healthymagination, Director of Brain Health, discussed GE’s commitment to supporting global health initiatives and highlighted the impact of the Wyoming Women First project. Pat shared that even women who are homeless will take advantage of the opportunity to be screened if given the chance.
Rounding the panel discussion, Gail Blanke, Founder, President, and Chief Executive Officer of Lifedesigns, talked about Avon breast cancer efforts around the world including in Jeddah and urged all participants to make a difference in their communities and take control of their health. Gail reminded us all of Margaret Meade’s statement that we should. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Following the discussion, Golnar Kamalvand, moderator and GE Solutions Program Manager, asked all to write on a card an action step that they will undertake once they return in an effort to address breast cancer. The cards will be mailed to participants two weeks upon their return to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a friendly reminder of the commitment they made and how their efforts can make an impact in their community.
It was heartening to see the level of commitment and dedication to ending breast cancer among these talented women. While great strides against this terrible disease have been made, more works remains until quality cancer care can be made available for every woman and man who needs it. That is why Komen will continue to partner with local NGOs, governments, and businesses until we see the world without breast cancer.
Guest blog by Susan G. Komen Advocate in Science member Judy Johnson, St. Louis, MO
Today is the 11th anniversary of the day I underwent surgery for early-stage breast cancer. A lovely dinner with the man I love is only hours away! We are looking forward to continuing to live our lives with gusto each and every day – as many of us who have survived breast cancer do.
Eleven years ago, I was afraid of how my life would change after receiving the dreaded diagnosis of breast cancer. I will never forget the feeling… like a big punch in the stomach, and a feeling of not being able to move or speak. Time stood still for what seemed like minutes, but it was probably only seconds. For those of you who are newly diagnosed, this may sound familiar. As you process the emotions and information that come along with diagnosis, I can share with you that my many survivor friends felt this way, too. And, after time passes and the healing begins, a “new normal” begins to evolve. Most of us are now very happy in our lives, and I hope that you will be able to move in this direction as your journey through treatment and recovery evolves.
Shortly after my own journey with breast cancer began, my journey with Susan G. Komen began as well. Komen has been an important part of my life for the last ten years. I’ve been involved in the St. Louis Race for the Cure each year – either in person or in spirit when I couldn’t be there.
Four years ago, I applied to become a member of Komen’s Advocates in Science (AIS)– a community of dedicated volunteer advocates who are passionate about breast cancer research. And early in 2013 I applied and was asked to become an AIS Steering Committee member. As a member of the AIS, I have participated in the Komen Peer Review process for the last few years. It’s a rigorous process where individuals of all disciplines – physicians, researchers, clinicians and patient advocates – review research proposals and select those that offer the most promise to save lives and ultimately end this disease.
Since being involved with AIS, I have seen progress made in treating patients, managing side effects, and finding new ways to battle recurrences. As patient advocates and survivors, we can, and do, make a difference and influence how research dollars are spent to help cure breast cancer. I feel a great deal of satisfaction and fulfillment to be able to have direct involvement in fighting breast cancer.
Life since breast cancer has certainly brought me a number of things to be grateful for. As the proud “grammy” of a nine-month old grandson, I feel joy in seeing him grow. I savor the beauty of the world around me and enjoy sharing the joy with my friends, family and loved ones. Each and every year of survivorship is special in its own way, and I look forward to many more.
Best wishes for happiness to all on this National Cancer Survivor’s Day!
Governor Hickenlooper Reauthorizes and Expands Eligibility for Colorado’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Program
Guest post by Michele Ostrander, CEO Susan G. Komen® Colorado.
Colorado’s breast cancer incidence rate is slightly higher than that observed in the US as a whole and the incidence trend is higher than the US as a whole. This year, more than 3,420 women in Colorado will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 510 will die from the disease. With more than 15% of Coloradans uninsured and 27% of individuals between the ages of 40 and 64 below 250% of the federal poverty level, the need for access to affordable breast cancer care is critical.
Colorado Governor Hickenlooper signed House Bill 1045 reauthorizing and securing funding for Colorado’s Medicaid Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment program before a crowd of grantees, donors and supporters at the recent Komen Colorado Hope for the Cure event. This legislation extends the program through 2019 and ensures any eligible woman can receive treatment through the program regardless of where she is diagnosed.
Komen Colorado’s work to expand the Treatment Act in Colorado began several years ago. When Colorado’s Treatment Act was implemented, the legislature chose an option which required women to be diagnosed at a CDC-funded clinic, making it difficult for a woman to qualify. In fact, even if a woman met eligibility requirements of age, income and residency status, she was denied access to treatment if she was diagnosed outside of a CDC-funded clinic.
Our Affiliate first worked on legislation that would add a $25 fee to the special breast cancer license plate offered in our state. Money raised through the sale of this plate would begin a funding stream that would help to eventually expand the Treatment Act. It was passed during a time of declining state revenue. Today, that small fee is now generating $675,000 per year and is helping to fund the Treatment Act expansion.
Last legislative session, we worked with the state’s Joint Budget Committee to add additional funding to the Treatment Act expanding it to cover eligible women. The funding was included in the Governor’s budget; however, the legislation defining eligibility for the Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment program did not change, leaving the continuation of the expansion in question.
This year, Komen Colorado worked with Representative Dianne Primavera to introduce HB 1045. Senator Irene Aguilar and Senator Larry Crowder signed on as co-sponsors, and the Affiliate partnered with Colorado Community Health Network and American Cancer Society, Cancer Action Network to educate the legislature and the public about the importance of this legislation.
HB 1045, signed by the Governor at Komen Colorado’s Hope for the Cure event alongside Komen’s President and CEO Dr. Judy Salerno, makes the eligibility change permanent, and reauthorizes the program through 2019. The expansion of the Treatment Act will allow an additional 200 women to receive breast cancer treatment.
Komen Colorado has invested more than $39 million into breast cancer programs in Colorado and raised more than $14 million for breast cancer research over the last 22 years. This year, Komen Colorado grants will support 28 breast cancer projects administered at more than 73 locations across Colorado. Now, thanks to collaboration with the Colorado legislature, women in Colorado, regardless of where they are diagnosed, can access lifesaving treatment through the Medicaid Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment program.
British IndyCar driver Pippa Mann is visiting a Komen-funded researcher at the University of Cincinnati today as part of her support of Susan G. Komen. From Opening Day at IMS through until Race Day, Mann’s car, helmet, firesuit and more will be turned pink, in an effort to raise awareness of breast cancer. In addition, for every lap of the speedway that Mann’s Indycar completes throughout the month of May, fans and supporters will have the opportunity to make a donation via www.racewithpippa.com, from which 100% of the donations will go directly to Komen. In this blog, she explains the roots of her involvement in breast cancer, which led to #PippaGoesPink at the Indianapolis 500 this weekend.
Guest post by Becca Najera, Martinez Street Women’s Center Assistant Director.
In April, Chaeo Mexdan was approached by promotoras from the Martinez Street Women’s Center. She was invited to an evening of breast health awareness where she would learn lifesaving information, play a breast cancer bingo game and have the opportunity to see a volunteer doctor for a free clinical breast exam. Upon arriving at the Center, she was warmly welcomed and felt right at home with all the Spanish speakers. After a presentation about breast health and breast cancer, Chaeo suspected she had a breast change that needed to be addressed.
Generally speaking, most people are aware of underprivileged families struggling with poverty or homelessness. It may not be as easy to see the struggle of the working poor so clearly. Such was the case for Chaeo Mexdan – an amazing artist and Flamenco/Folklorico dance instructor. Chaeo worked with senior citizens and founded the Ballet Tesoro in San Antonio. She never had any extra resources to keep up with her with her regular medical appointments, including her annual mammogram. She tucked her concerns away in the very back of her mind, always hoping she would resolve her need some day.
She will be the first to tell you it was nothing short of a miracle that the Martinez Street Women’s Center reached out to her when they did. Upon arriving at the breast health awareness event, Chaeo was convinced: this was where she needed to be. The promotoras spoke to her about the importance of recognizing and reporting changes in her breast. They also shared this information in a way that recognized who Chaeo was as an individual, and honored her culture.
After learning about signs and symptoms, she saw the on-site doctor that night for her clinical breast exam. The doctor did feel a lump, and wrote out a prescription for a free diagnostic mammogram.
On Cinco de Mayo, at an event hosted by the Martinez Street Women’s Center, Chaeo unexpectedly took the microphone and gave her testimony. She shared that she was so relieved to get the results back from her diagnostic mammogram and find that she had a fibrocystic change – a cyst – which was not cancerous. She encouraged the crowd to seek out these resources. She spoke of the importance of having a center like the Martinez Street Women’s Center that would reach out and meet people where they are, and honor where they are from.
The Martinez Street Women’s Center has continued to work in communities identified as having the most need for breast health education and screenings. Working with the Martinez Street Women’s Center for 13 years has given me many opportunities to bring education to disparate communities.
Support from organizations like Komen, make this work possible. We have been partners with Komen San Antonio for 9 years, annually reaching more than 5,000 traditionally marginalized community women. In San Antonio we engage mostly Hispanic/Latina women (80 percent), African American women (15 percent) and other racial and ethnic groups (5 percent) whose average household income is less than $10,000. We were pleased to have the opportunity to pilot the new Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Education Toolkit for Hispanic/Latino Communities. The Toolkit provided us with tools and resources to enhance the cultural competency and knowledge of our breast health educators. It allowed us to make a difference in the life of Chaeo, and will no doubt be a vital resource for women everywhere.