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  • Komen Race for the Cure: North Carolina, West Virginia and New Jersey

    Rain or shine, Komen supporters were undeterred last weekend, coming out in their pink to support Race for the Cure events in Winston-Salem, Charleston, and West Orange.

    Komen NC Triad - SurvivorsKomen NC Triad held its 13th Annual Race last Saturday. Among the 6,500 participants at the event were sisters Becky and Connie, whose stories, along with others, were captured by The Winston-Salem Journal. Attendees were bubbling over with pink pride – some wearing sombreros, tutus and gaudy hats. One participant even wore a wedding dress! A special moment for all came at the end of the survivor ceremony when butterflies were released into the crowd.

    In Charleston, the 12th Annual Komen West Virginia Race faced some rough weather, but many were still happy to run. A Komen representative who was at the event saw the runners “smiling as they ran in the pouring rain!” The Chicago Tribune discussed the Race ahead of time, sharing that while 75 percent of funds raised at the Race stay in the local area, the 25 percent can have a local impact as well! “In the last two years, West Virginia received two research awards at WVU on two different research projects,” said Rebecca Newhouse, president of the Affiliate’s board of directors.

    Komen North Jersey RaceKomen North Jersey’s Race had its own excitement as well. The 5,000+ participants celebrated the Affiliate’s 15th anniversary with a special cake designed by Buddy Valastro from TLC’s “Cake Boss.” During the Survivor Celebration, survivors walked on stage behind bagpipers, receiving applause from the crowd and joining hands themselves for an emotional moment. Co-Chairwoman for the Race Lisa Renwick shared that she was “thrilled at the turnout.” NorthJersey.com, nj.com and BloomfieldPatch covered the event, capturing images and the passion of all in attendance.

    Congratulations to all 3 Races for such incredible events, and a special thanks to everyone who participated and volunteered!

    Komen Pittsburgh, Memorial, Siouxland, Boise and Connecticut are ramping up for their Races as well. Stay tuned to hear more about these upcoming events! And if you’re in one of these communities and haven’t registered for the Race yet, join us and help meet the need for breast health services right in your backyard.

  • Mother’s Day in the Mud

    Nancy G. Brinker and her son, Eric Brinker

    Eric Brinker is often referred to as our longest-running volunteer. The son of founder and CEO Nancy G. Brinker, Eric grew up with the breast cancer movement, and went on to become a Komen national board member, global ambassador, and Race chair and board member of the Susan G. Komen Peoria Affiliate.

    Reading recent reports on how Susan G. Komen for the Cure fundraising has been impacted by recent events, I was reminded how far we’ve come, not since January’s Twitter-storm, but since 1977, when newspapers considered the words “breast cancer” unfit to print.

    That year, my 33-year-old Aunt Suzy was diagnosed. Awareness was too little too late. Breast cancer was shrouded in shame and ineffectually treated. Watching her sister suffer and die, my mom, Nancy Brinker, was seared with a sense of purpose that met with her natural talent for research and a passion for patient advocacy that bordered on bulldozer. She promised her sister that breast cancer would be different for women in the future.

    Mom sweated every detail of the first Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation event in 1982, pinching every penny, calling in favors from years of fundraising for other charities. It was the perfect Dallas lawn party—except for the torrential rain. That morning, Mom slogged through the mud in her pink high heels, sobbing, “I’m sorry, Suzy, I’m sorry.” The money involved was nothing compared to her sorrow at not keeping her promise.

    As Mom’s first volunteer, I grew up with the organization eventually renamed Susan G. Komen for the Cure. (My friends were impressed with the illustrated breast self-exam cards and life-size feel-for-the-lump demo breasts stored in the corner of my room.) Over the years, as Susan G. Komen raised more than $2 billion and rallied 1.7 million volunteers, I saw Mom lifted up by supporters and torn down by detractors. I was by her side when President Obama awarded her the Medal of Freedom and when critics condemned her for 20+ years of Komen funding breast exams at Planned Parenthood clinics for women who often had no other place to go.

    The Nancy Brinker I know is a broad-minded, basically well-behaved Jewish girl from Peoria, who saw something wrong and did something about it. People either love her or hate her because she makes it impossible to sit there with a broken heart and a bucket of excuses. My mom is living proof that every one of us can make a difference.

    That said, she is human, as is the Susan G. Komen staff, I and my fellow board members and everyone involved in this movement. We all make mistakes. Without rehashing the whole Planned Parenthood grant situation, I’ll say we failed to think it through. Accustomed to triaging breast cancer, not PR debacles, we stumbled. Viral response rapidly morphed into a pandemic of misinformation.

    She apologized. We apologized. Most of the credit for the wealth of good will we’ve enjoyed over the years belongs to our local affiliates, on-the-ground volunteers and generous corporate sponsors. We won’t let them down again. On a personal note, I’d also like to tell my mom that I’m sorry I failed to get between her and the oncoming freight train.

    For years, the public perception was breast cancer + pink = good, but the complexity of this organization—and the disease itself—was never fully understood. What matters now is the opportunity to bring people back with more information and, hopefully, a greater sense of urgency.

    Not everyone will hear us. Responding to bloggers who misrepresent our research spending is as futile as responding to snark about Mom’s big hair. What matters is transparency. We’re making changes, including additional board representation from local Affiliates, and we welcome anyone who wants the real facts about how we manage to reach around the world with no government funding, funding the most breast cancer research of any non-profit, and helping hundreds of thousands of women every year.

    Rumors abounded that I was forced to give up my board seat. In fact, I stepped aside after my term ended, to make room for an additional Affiliate.

    Our leaders and volunteers are galvanized with the same purpose—usually for the same reasons—as my mom, who not only lost her sister to breast cancer, she lost her breasts. She survived a mastectomy and chemotherapy; mudslinging doesn’t quite compare.

    Back in 1982, standing in the rain with her big hair deflating, Mom saw a car pull into the parking lot, followed by another and another. At the end of the day, the mud didn’t matter. Our community understood the need and rallied to help.

    30 years later, in the aftermath of controversy, we’re seeing some impact in revenues in some parts of the country. But as our Mother’s Day Races approach, we’re seeing our communities rally to help. We appreciate those thousands of moms, dads, daughters, sons, sisters and brothers who are continuing to support us, because thousands more are depending on Komen every day to find a cure for breast cancer, and help those who suffer with it today.

    Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Together, we’ll weather the storm.

  • Susan G. Komen: Making an Impact in Israel

    This year, more than 4,000 women and men are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer in Israel. We are working with NA’AMAT and the Jerusalem Municipality on the ground in Israel, uniting people of all nationalities and religions together against this disease.  We are so excited to join the women and families who will take to the streets for the second time to raise funds and awareness of breast cancer in the 2012 Susan G. Komen Israel Race for the Cure in Jerusalem on May 3.

    Since 2010, we have given $3 million to organizations in Israel including the Weizmann Institute of Science, Hebrew University-Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem and NGO’s such as Naamat, Beit Natan, The Galilee Society, NISPED, the Israel Cancer Association and others. 100% of the funds raised through the Israel Race for the Cure will stay in Israel to support programs that address breast cancer and women’s health needs.

    In Israel, breast cancer accounts for nearly 30% of all new cancer cases, with 1,000 women and men expected to die of the disease this year. As we prepare for this year’s Israel Race for the Cure, we are especially focused on reaching out to Arab, Ethiopian and Russian women, and ultra-orthodox women living in Israel – all of whom can face economic or cultural barriers to early detection and breast health care. We want all women in Israel to know that they are welcome to walk with us.

    Help us fight breast cancer in Israel and walk with us on May 3, 2012! If you can’t make it, you can still virtually join us by registering as a VIP – Virtual Israel Participant!

    For more information, please visit http://www.komen.org/israel












  • Susan G. Komen and Uzbekistan

    There’s chatter online today about us and our work in Uzbekistan. Our partnership is with the National Breast Cancer Association of Uzbekistan, a well-regarded NGO endorsed by the United Nations, the U.S. National Cancer Institute and through work done at the Seattle Cancer Care Institute. NBCA has been working since 2009 to provide breast cancer education, screening and treatment in Uzbekistan, where breast cancer kills about 1,000 women annually. Our participation is to help with an upcoming Race benefitting breast cancer programs in Uzbekistan.

    We partner in more than 50 countries worldwide to erase the stigma of breast cancer that still exists in some countries, and to provide early screening and treatment for women who have few or no options today.  Our work takes us to the Middle East, Africa, central Europe, Asia and Latin America, and to date, we have invested more than $44 million to these outreach programs and in research with global institutions.

    If you have further questions, please contact us at news[at]komen[.]org.

  • Old Drug, New Research

    The scientists who “invented” tamoxifen back in the 1960s were actually trying to develop a contraceptive. As the story goes, it worked in laboratory rats, but had the opposite effect in women. Instead of becoming a birth control pill or fertility treatment, the drug became one of the most widely used breast cancer therapies, thanks to a young chemist from England, Dr. V. Craig Jordan.

    Doctors began prescribing tamoxifen in the 1970s, and even today, it remains a mainstay in the treatment of breast cancer. Meanwhile, Dr. Jordan has dedicated his career to discovering and improving therapies for estrogen-sensitive breast cancer.  A recent story about him estimates that one million women worldwide are alive today because of his research. And countless other women were able to live long, productive lives, ultimately dying of old age instead of breast cancer.

    As cancer drugs go, tamoxifen is inexpensive (the patent on tamoxifen expired almost 10 years ago). It’s an oral drug, so it’s easy to administer. It’s also very effective, though there are other options that may be equally or more effective. Scientists and physicians continue to study the drug because it is an important weapon in the treatment of breast cancer around the globe, and advances in modern technology are allowing them to learn new things about old drugs.

    Since 2003, tamoxifen research has focused on a gene called CYP2D6 (pronounced sip-2-D-6), which helps the body metabolize tamoxifen and convert it into an active agent against breast cancer. A few studies suggested that some women didn’t fully metabolize tamoxifen because of differences in their CYP2D6 genes, thus raising concerns that the drug was not effective against their breast cancers. Some doctors began ordering CYP2D6 tests before prescribing tamoxifen, presumably changing their treatment recommendation if a woman’s test showed she was one who didn’t fully metabolize the drug.

    There also seemed to be a correlation between hot flashes and CYP2D6, leading us to believe that if a woman wasn’t experiencing hot flashes, then the drug wasn’t working. And women who had hot flashes were reassured that the tamoxifen was doing its job.

    Fortunately, some researchers argued that we didn’t yet know enough about CYP2D6 to be making treatment decisions. In 2008, Susan G. Komen for the Cure awarded a Promise Grant to a group of these researchers so they could delve further into this question (results of this study were just published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute; Volume 104 Issue 6 March 21, 2012). By analyzing the DNA of breast cancer tumors from women who had received tamoxifen, the researchers were able to prove that differences in CYP2D6 did not predict who would or would not benefit from taking tamoxifen. They also showed that hot flashes didn’t correlate to differences in CYP2D6.

    This might not sound like an important discovery, but it is. For one, women and their doctors won’t be making a treatment decision based on erroneous information, nor will doctors be ordering expensive tests that are unnecessary. It also highlights the importance of clinical trials and tissue banking. The women whose tumors were studied had participated in a large treatment trial, and had agreed to let the researchers collect tissue from their breast cancer tumors. Had the women not agreed to this, the scientists would not have been able to analyze the tumors and compare their findings with treatment outcomes for these women. We must continue to support this kind of research because studies like this will help us realize the promise of personalized medicine.

    For those interested in more details about this Komen Promise Grant, please read a great summary written by my colleague, Stephanie Reffey, PhD.