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What I Think About the Current Breast Cancer Debate

I've been told it's impossible to end breast cancer. People said the same about curing polio or putting a man on the moon. But I'm hopeful.
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In the past few days, I have been inundated with questions about what I think of the recent headlines about breast cancer. I really don't want to weigh in on that debate. What's more important to me is that this week alone, globally, nearly 8,500[1] women have died from breast cancer. I think that is unacceptable.

Here's what else I think: we all must change our behavior if we are to end breast cancer.

This is not rhetoric nor is it a new vision for the National Breast Cancer Coalition. The advocates, scientists, policy makers, the people in industry who know us, all know that, since our inception in 1991, we have always been focused on ending breast cancer. And we never lose that focus.

But not everyone knows us. While we have done a phenomenal job in changing the world of breast cancer, we haven't done a great job marketing ourselves.

So let me quickly tell you about the National Breast Cancer Coalition. In terms of budget, we are small. In terms of impact, we are mighty. The National Breast Cancer Coalition does not have the funds to be in the business of granting significant money. Yet, as a result of our work, the worldwide scientific community has received more than $2.8 billion in federal appropriations for innovative breast cancer research through the defense budget alone and we helped create new models of science. We continue to oversee how those dollars are spent and collaborate with researchers to design research and set priorities.

As a result of our work, 2.6 million letters, postcards, signatures, faxes and mailgrams were directed to President Clinton asking that he develop a national strategy to end breast cancer. He met NBCC's demands and committed to a National Action Plan on Breast Cancer, an innovative collaboration of government, science, private industry and consumers.

As a result of our work, legislation was designed and passed to ensure that uninsured women diagnosed through the CDC Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Act have access to treatment.

As a result of our work, advocates have a seat at the table where decisions are made about breast cancer. NBCC created Project LEAD®, a well-respected and innovative science program for breast cancer activists. Through Project LEAD, we educate lay advocates in the US and internationally about the language and concepts of science and the structure of breast cancer research decision making. We teach them to critically analyze information. Our Project LEAD graduates meaningfully contribute to science and health care.

In September 2010, the National Breast Cancer Coalition again launched a revolution in breast cancer with a new weapon: a deadline. Breast Cancer Deadline 2020®--the end of breast cancer by January 1, 2020.

Backed by a coalition of hundreds of organizations and tens of thousands of individuals, the National Breast Cancer Coalition is creating a paradigm shift in the breast cancer world that is changing the conversation and refocusing resources and efforts to the areas that will end breast cancer:

  • Primary Prevention: How do we stop people from getting breast cancer in the first place?
  • The Causes & Prevention of Metastasis: How do we stop people from dying of breast cancer?

The National Breast Cancer Coalition has four strategies to achieve its goal:

  • Targeted research, including new research strategies and research collaborations, for example, designing and implementing a development plan for a preventive vaccine
  • A public policy approach, including federal legislation
  • Grassroots advocacy and education of a large corps of activists to engage their communities
  • Communications and media outreach to change the conversation to ending breast cancer by 2020

Ending breast cancer requires a paradigm shift in the way we approach research and advocacy. The National Breast Cancer Coalition is leading that change. That is what we do.

I've been told it's impossible to end breast cancer. People said the same about curing polio or putting a man on the moon. But thanks to the visionaries who had an "impossible dream," our world changed.

Impossible dreams are among the most difficult challenges. That's why most people stay away from them. And that's exactly why the National Breast Cancer Coalition will not. We set a deadline to end breast cancer and launched a plan of action to get there.

A question I am often asked is, "What if we fail?" Well, we already have. Almost 500,000 women worldwide will die of breast cancer this year. That is not success by anyone's measure.

The questions we ought to be asking ourselves are, "How do we succeed, and what must we do differently to get there?" We are asking those questions and are moving forward with answers ... to the end of breast cancer. Are you with us?

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