Every 74 seconds, someone dies from breast cancer, and sadly, too often, where you live determines whether you live.
Before her death, I promised my sister Suzy that I would do everything in my power to ensure that other women didn’t have to suffer and die from this disease. And my promise was not a promise to the women of any one country—it is a promise to all women, everywhere, which is why Susan G. Komen has been working on a global level since the mid-1990s. In this, our 30th year, we’re taking even bolder strides toward ending this devastating disease.
Just today, we were in the Bahamas announcing more progress in the global fight against breast cancer. Komen has been working in the Bahamas since 2008 in partnership with the Cancer Society of the Bahamas and the Sister Sister Support group, among others. As an island nation with a small population, the breast cancer statistics in the Bahamas are alarming:
- 48%of the women diagnosed with breast cancer in the Bahamas were under the age of 50 – with the average age of diagnosis in the Bahamas being 42, compared to 62 in the United States.
- 44% of Bahamian women with breast cancer had late stage disease at the time of diagnosis – that means Bahamian wives, mothers, daughters, sisters and friends are finding out about their cancer later and dying younger.
Today, I was honored to participate in an extraordinary event in which the Bahamanian Ministry of Health unveiled its breast cancer program, which is focused on increasing awareness, catching the disease early, and ultimately improving care and treatment outcomes.
In addition, the Ministry announced the formation of a Breast Cancer Planning Committee, which will help coordinate efforts of those working to fight breast cancer on the Island and assist the Ministry in developing a national breast cancer policy and agenda.
As part of Komen’s efforts to support the Bahamian government’s breast cancer agenda, we announced at the launch event a $50,000 grant in support of a local NGO breast cancer consortium. This program will be led and implemented by Sister Sister Breast Cancer Support Group, in collaboration with the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation and the Cancer Association of Grand Bahama. This grant is supported by the Ministry of Health, Marathon Bahamas, One Eleuthera and the wider community.
This is part of our ongoing effort in the islands: In 2009, Komen awarded Dr. Judith Hurley, M.D., of the University of Miami School of Medicine, a 2-year grant of nearly $300,000 to evaluate the genetic risk of Bahamian women with breast and ovarian cancer. The groundbreaking research by Dr. Hurley has led to the discovery that an astonishing 23% of Bahamian women diagnosed with breast cancer carry the BRCA1 gene mutation.
The BRCA1 mutation is one of the most well-known genes linked to breast cancer risk, and it is thought to explain a large portion of hereditary breast cancers, which occur in the Bahamas.
The discovery is a call to action to all of us – we must help the people in the Bahamas understand the importance of screening and treatment and educating women on breast cancer.
Our most recent grant would not have been made possible without a very dear friend of mine, who also happens to be a three-time and 10-year breast cancer survivor – Tina Lewis. Komen matched Lewis’ gift of $50,000, for a total of $100,000 toward supporting breast cancer efforts in the Bahamas. The additional $50,000 will be used to accelerate provider training, and public education and awareness efforts on the Island.
We’re also excited to announce a partnership with the Atlantis, Paradise Island Resort hotel —with 8,000 employees it is the largest employer on the Island. Through the new Pink it in Paradise initiative, the Atlantis is raising awareness and funds among its guests and employees to be used for breast health initiatives in the Bahamas.
We’re thrilled, of course, to continue our incredible partnership with Sunshine Insurance Marathon Bahamas, which has made significant contributions to helping raise awareness of breast cancer in the Bahamas and helping us bring the Race for the Cure® to Nassau, Paradise Island. We are looking forward to the 3rd Susan G. Komen Bahamas Race for the Cure®, set to take place January 19, 2013.
Our efforts in the Bahamas reflect our constant dedication to working with partners within and outside the boundaries of the United States to give women hope and battle the disease—together. I know I’m not alone when I say that I’m excited to watch our 4-year relationship with the Bahamas continue to grow, and provide headway to successful relationships in other countries.
It’s been a busy summer for Affiliates across the country! As we get closer to National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we are so excited to see all of the ways that Komen supporters across the country are making an impact in their communities and in the fight against breast cancer.
Energy and spirit were running high at Vermont’s Race for the Cure in Manchester at the end of July. The Race topped 1,587 participants and raised $185,046! Debbie Peretz, the Vermont-New Hampshire Affiliate President, declared, “participants, volunteers, survivors — everybodyreally put their hearts and souls into the Race,” the Manchester Journal reports.
Akron’s first Race for the Cure was a big hit in the last weekend of July! The mayor of Akron came out to officially send the walkers and racers off towards the finish line. Along the course, everyone from local businesses to a group of motorcycle enthusiasts cheered on the race participants. The Akron Beacon Journal covered the story of one survivor, Julie Jones, who won first place in the Race!
CBS 5 reported that the Wyoming Race for the Cure on Aug. 11 had hundreds of walkers hitting the pavement bright and early Saturday morning for the event, winding through the streets of downtown Cheyenne as they followed the Race course.
In Kansas City, supporters came out by the thousands – 21,000 to be exact! Fox 4 KC covered the event, and The Kansas City Star featured survivor Melanie Bowman who spoke about the invaluable support and information she received from the local Affiliate during her cancer journey.
Komen Memorial celebrated a wonderful Race at the 2nd annual Bloomington Race for the Cure last Saturday, drawing more than 2,100 participants and raising $138,000, according to WJBC. Pantagraph.com spoke with several participants and survivors, who shared how personal the fight against breast cancer is to them.
WLBZ2 reports that more than 1,000 people came out Sunday morning for the Maine Affiliate’s Race for the Cure in Portland, capturing some of the day’s fun in a video.
In Scranton, Citizen’s Voice tells the story of Lael Swank who found a lump at age 39 and now fundraises for the Northeastern Pennsylvania Race with the help of her 176 Race team members. According to The Abington Journal, the event, now in its 22nd year, had about 6,500 attendees and raised approx. $200,000!
The San Francisco Chronicle features some fun pictures from the San Francisco Bay Area Race for the Cure this past Sunday. The piece also includes perspectives from long-time supporters and survivors who share their confidence and passion for Komen’s mission.
The Gazette and KRDO highlight last weekend’s Southeastern Colorado Race for the Cure, which brought together lots of Komen supporters – one of whom even dyed his goatee pink for a friend! The eve of the Race was just as much fun as tails wagged for Pooches in Pink – an event where dogs strutted in outfits of pink feather boas, fairy wings, shirts, tutus, and bandanas.
Rounding out the weekend, the Greater NYC Race for the Cure flooded Central Park with pink on Sunday. Among the participants were Andrea Koster-Crain and her daughter Amanda, who were named the Survivor and Co-Survivor of the Year and were featured in Newsday. CBS New York (here as well), NY Daily News, NY1 and others covered the event.
As the summer time fun comes to an end, the Race for the Cure fun is just getting started. So stay tuned for more Race recaps!
Last night the Milken Institute hosted an event that fit its title perfectly: Unforgettable.
“An Unforgettable Evening at the Kennedy Center” was a fantastic night recognizing the vast changes in science, and I had the honor to be there to represent the 2.9 million breast cancer survivors and discuss how far we’ve come in fighting the disease.
I first became involved with the Milken Institute years ago when Michael Milken gathered over 150,000 people for a September 1998 march on the National Mall to bring awareness to cancer. I was among those representing over 600 cancer organizations. And last night was a bit of a reunion. It was wonderful to have so many of those people together again last night as we took to the stage to talk about the advances we’ve seen in the 14 years since that day.
Susan G. Komen for the Cure started as a promise to my sister, and I once again told that story during my turn on stage last night. Not as a way to explain our organization’s history, but to remind people that we have infinitely more power to effect change than we realize. And when that power is channeled into non-profit and disease-specific organizations around the world, what results is more productive cancer research everywhere, leading to new drugs and therapies that can save lives.
When you consider that there are more than 200 unique forms of cancer that may affect one or more of 60 organs in our body, the challenges are daunting. And frightening, half of all men and one-third of all women will develop cancer during their lifetimes.
Despite this, today there is reason for great hope. We have made real strides in therapies for many types of cancers. For the first time we can actually prevent some forms of cancer with simple injections. And not only are these advancements saving people’s lives, but also our country’s economy as science and technology advances account for 50% of America’s growth.
I want to thank the Milken Institute for including me in the evening, one that I will never forget.
August 29, 2012 Breast Cancer News, Global, Komen Leadership News, Komen Programs, Mission, Partners & Sponsors, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon
It’s been almost a year since Susan G. Komen co-launched the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon program and every time I get to speak about it I am even more excited about this unique program and its potential to save the lives of millions of women.
Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon (PRRR) is an initiative to expand access to cervical and breast cancer services in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America by integrating cancer services into existing service delivery platforms designed to fight HIV/AIDS. (Learn more here.) It comes down to this: What a tragedy it is to save a woman from HIV/AIDS only to lose her to breast or cervical cancer a couple years later. Especially when these diseases are detectable and treatable.
Yesterday, I joined a panel at the UICC World Cancer Congress in Montreal, Canada, to discuss the progress PRRR is making. On the panel were First Lady of Zambia, H.E. Dr. Christine Kaseba; the Minister of Health and Social Welfare for Tanzania, H.E. Dr. Hussein Mwinyi; and the Director of the Center for Global Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Kevin De Cock. Dr. Ben Anderson, from the Universtiy of Washington, moderated our discussion. We talked about not only the work to be done, but also to draw attention to the great advances thus far in women’s health in Africa.
The panel’s overarching theme today was exactly the concept that makes PRRR work: integration. As the old saying goes, many hands make light work, which was the principle that prompted President George W. Bush’s PEPFAR program and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS to join Komen to fight on behalf of women’s health.
Dr. Mwinyi said cancer problems in Tanzania are getting out of hand and attempts to build vertical programs to fight cancer won’t work. He is a firm believer that streamlined partnerships are the best and most sustainable way to attack these problems.
Dr. De Cock from the U.S. CDC emphasized the importance of metrix and good data to help scope the challenges we face in various populations. He also talked about the vital importance of registration systems.
Zambia’s First Lady provided just that — concrete data on how integration is already making changes in her country. One example: The Komen-supported Cancer Prevention Alliance Zambia (CAPRAZ). This is a consortium of seven local cancer advocacy NGOs committed to raise awareness about cervical and breast cancer. And wow, how the power of consortium (see, there’s that “many hands” idea again!) makes the difference.
For instance, the First Lady told us that just two weeks ago, Zambian nurses completed a training program for performing clinical breast exams. Between December 2011 and July 2012, more than 13,000 women in Zambia have been screened for cervical cancer with approximately 20 percent found to be VIA positive. They were then either treated with cryotherapy or referred for further diagnosis and appropriate advanced treatment.
It’s been said that, “if you build it they will come.” But this isn’t a “field of dreams,” and it is not a game. This is a matter of life and death and we are saving lives through Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon.
July 30, 2012 Breast Cancer, Breast Cancer News, Education, Global, Komen Leadership News, Komen News, Mission, Partners & Sponsors, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon
Wow, what a month! Following up on my previous blog post from my trip to Africa, I was fortunate to be able to participate in this year’s International AIDS Conference in Washington D.C. With over 20,000 participants from all over the global health world, it was truly an amazing event and – historic – as this year marked the first time this biannual conference has been held in the United States since 1987!
Representatives from the founding Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon (PRRR) organizations joined me for a satellite session entitled: Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon Panel: Leveraging the HIV Platform for Women’s Cancers. PRRR aims to build on existing health platforms, and particularly the firm foundation laid by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to help address the growing breast and cervical cancer burden in sub-Saharan Africa. I was joined on the panel by Ambassador Eric Goosby the current US Global AIDS Coordinator and head of PEPFAR, Dr. Doyin Oluwole the Executive Director of PRRR, Dr. Peter Mwaba, Permanent Secretary of the Zambian Ministry of Health, Mr. Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS and Renuka Gadde, VP for Global Health at BD. The panel, which was so ably moderated by Jim Glassman, Executive Director of the George W. Bush Institute, provided PRRR founding partners an opportunity to engage with the HIV/AIDS community and to articulate the core vision of Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon. My presentation was entitled, Building Capacity throughout the Continuum of Care: Leveraging HIV Platforms to Address Breast and Cervical Cancer in Sub-Saharan Africa. It was great to see that the two mottos which continue to guide all Komen’s global engagements strongly resonated with the audience: ‘’Where a woman lives should not determine whether she lives and ‘Healthy women drive healthy economies’’.
I started by emphasizing the alarming epidemiological trends: Today, breast cancer is no longer a disease of women in high-income, industrialized countries but an urgent global problem. It is the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women worldwide, and while most new cases are diagnosed in developed countries, the numbers of breast cancer deaths each year are now equally split between developed and developing countries.* Recent estimates indicate that every year, over 100,000 women die of breast and cervical cancer in sub-Saharan Africa. But these are likely gross underestimates, as many countries in the region lack national cancer registries. More importantly, this growing burden in Africa is increasingly shifting to younger women of reproductive age. And the health systems in many of these countries simply do not have the capacity to effectively cope with this coming epidemic. The stigma surrounding this disease, and inadequate infrastructure all exacerbate the barriers women face in accessing healthcare and make it more likely that even those few who do get screened will not get the life-savings services they need, as treatment options are very limited.
I also stressed the unique opportunity we now have for addressing these two major killers of African women in an integrated and cost-effective way. There are so many lessons and best-practices from the global AIDS community that we can apply to our joint efforts on breast and cervical cancer.
Education and awareness programs focused on reducing stigma, increasing early detection rates and creating a general awareness about the disease, as well as the treatment options that are available will be crucial to lowering mortality rates and down-staging the disease at diagnosis.
To this end, Komen’s global strategy is focused on four key aspects which we see as integral to ensuring a sustainable continuum of services: support for countries in developing robust, national breast and cervical cancer plans; providing targeted clinical training to address skill gaps among low and mid level providers and enhance the capacities of critical medical specialists radiologists, surgeons and oncologists; and finally, to help countries build up their cancer registries and health information management.
Our brief presentations were followed by a lively Q& A session with questions ranging, from how PRRR aims to address the current challenges countries face with severe limitations in lab diagnostic capacities as well as critical clinical and pathogenesis questions around treatment of HIV+ women diagnosed with breast cancer.
I came away from the panel thinking – we have so much to do and how exciting that we have such brilliant partners leading the way on the global front. Komen is committed to advancing a holistic approach to women’s health, and to do all we can to help African countries avert this looming ‘cancer tsunami’.
*IPRI. 2012. World Breast Cancer Report, 2012, International Prevention Research Institute (IPRI).