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  • An Unforgettable Evening with the Milken Institute

    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.

  • Pink Ribbon | Red Ribbon: UICC World Cancer Congress

    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.

  • Pink Ribbon | Red Ribbon: International AIDS Conference

    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).

  • Race for the Cure Recap – Brainerd Lakes and Aspen

    It’s been a few weeks, but we are excited to catch you up on the amazing Races in Brainerd Lakes (June 30) and Aspen (July 14).

    Nearly 2,000 people came together for the 2nd Annual Brainerd Lakes Race last month. The event raised just under $97,000 – an increase from last year! Attendees learned of the inspiring story of the 2012 Honorary Survivor Chair, Viola Fjellman – a 62 year breast cancer survivor.

    The 22nd Annual Aspen Race had nearly 1,000 participants, including some who came out for the newly-debuted 10K event. According to attendees, the survivor tent was “out of this world” and more than 200 volunteers made Race day a huge success!

    There may be fewer Race events this time of year, but Komen and Komen Affiliates are still in full swing! Stay tuned for more information about how Komen is making an impact around the globe, and don’t forget to register for your local Komen Race for the Cure!

  • Susan G. Komen and Mexican Embassy: National Partnership with Local Impact

    Guest post from Catherine Oliveros, MPH, DrPH, Susan G. Komen for the Cure Regional Director, International

    We were very pleased on Thursday to announce a major partnership with the Consulate General of Mexico aimed at Mexican women in the United States.  This exciting new partnership focuses on building the organizational capacity of local Mexican Consulate’s Ventanillas de Salud (Windows of Health) programs to address breast cancer needs in the community.

    Why is this model important for Komen?  Simply put, because the need is urgent.  Although Latinas are less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer; they tend to be diagnosed at later stages of breast cancer – attributable in part to potential barriers to care and a lack of awareness about the disease.

    This one year pilot will set the stage for a national initiative promoting breast health awareness and action among Mexican women in the US.  We’re working to actively address the barriers to care unique to Hispanic and Latina populations, while building programs in collaboration with Mexican Consulate offices and Komen Affiliates.

    The 2012-2013 grantees for $50,000 include:

    • Little Rock – University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health
    • San Antonio – YWCA of San Antonio
    • San Diego – Project Concern International
    • DallasDFW Area Health Education Center

    The impact these projects can have in terms of raising awareness and providing support to Latina women is tremendous.  Komen is proud to be partnering with the Mexican Embassy on this initiative and we look forward to successful outcomes that will set the stage for national implementation and the integration into other Embassies throughout the US.