I was recently invited to attend a luncheon, which was the annual meeting of the Kansas City chapter of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. This is a message I found on the Komen website from Nancy Brinker, founder of the organization:
“As I look back over the last 25 years since I founded Susan G. Komen for the Cure, I am amazed at our accomplishments. What began as a promise to my dying sister, Susan G. Komen, has evolved into the world's largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures.
I am in awe of our victories over the last two decades. We began the global breast cancer movement. We started the Komen Race for the Cure®, the most successful fundraising and education event for breast cancer ever created; pioneered cause-related marketing; created Komen Affiliates serving needs in more than 18,000 communities; developed educational tools to reach people in more than 200 countries; and became the world's largest source of private funds for breast cancer research and community outreach programs with nearly $1 billion invested by the end of 2007.
We're proud of the fact that we don't simply dump funds and run. We create activists - one person, one community, one state, one nation at a time - to try and solve the number one health concern of women. I am so proud of the work done by the Komen Affiliates who reach into their communities to keep the subject of breast cancer high in the public consciousness. With the help of Komen Affiliates, corporate partners, individual donors, Komen staff and activists, we've saved millions of lives, making the two million breast cancer survivors the largest group of cancer survivors today.
The sad reality is there is still tremendous work to be done. We don't know what causes breast cancer, and we don't know how to prevent it. Women are still dying unnecessarily in our own backyards. And on the global front, the situation is worse. Ten million women around the world could die from breast cancer in the next 25 years. Cancer already claims twice as many lives as AIDS worldwide. At least seven million people die of cancer each year and close to 11 million new cases are diagnosed. That's more than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.
We have come a long way in our fight. Twenty-five years ago, when breast cancer was diagnosed before it spread beyond the breast, the five-year survival rate was just 74 percent. Today, it is 98 percent. Nearly 75 percent of women over the age of 40 now receive regular mammograms compared to just 30 percent in 1982. Now it's time to take an even more aggressive stance. We must raise the expectations of science, of institutions and ourselves. We are so close to creating a world without breast cancer. The science is there. Now is the time for us to see this fight through so that no one ever has to fear breast cancer again.”
The luncheon was quite the event. There were 1300 people there, mostly women, many donning pink suits or hats. There was a real sense of sisterhood in the room. I sat with women who spoke openly and proudly of what they’d been through, as well as women who were grieving the loss of loved ones to the disease.
When I first got there, I was given a nametag to wear. Under my name was the word “survivor.” At the end of the luncheon, I, along with all the other “survivors” was given a long stemmed pink rose. I actually struggled a bit with this. It reminded me of Holocaust Survivors. As I have gotten to know many of them, I have learned that there is delineation in their minds between those who were actually in concentration camps and those who were not. For me and breast cancer, since I did not have chemo or radiation or even an “invasive” diagnosis, I feel slightly uncomfortable laying claim to the label of “survivor.”
I mentioned this to the head of one of the local breast centers. Her response was as follows:
“Your comments about being a survivor are interesting. I have heard other survivors voice similar feelings. Yes, your treatment is less than some others, but you lost a breast and probably more significantly you have lost your innocence. Cancer is no longer something that happens to other people - it has happened to you. That realization has to be difficult. But in the 15 years I have been working in oncology, 99.9% of the patients I've met consider their having cancer as a blessing. I have no doubt you are or will be in that majority.”
In the meantime, I am going to start training for the Komen Race for the Cure, a 5K run to be held in KC in August!