By Fran Visco
National Breast Cancer Coalition president
October. Another breast cancer awareness month with buildings and bridges aglow in pink. One year since the last one. And around the world another 500,000 women dead of breast cancer. Almost 40,000 in this country alone. Actually, this is the 25th breast cancer awareness month. We are being asked to celebrate that fact – which is symptomatic of the problem. Why do we try so hard to make breast cancer palatable, comfortable, pink? I really don’t feel like celebrating.
Twenty five years ago, in the United States, 110 women died of breast cancer every day. Twenty five years and billions of private and public research dollars later, that number is 110. Every day. Not much progress, is it?
What have we been talking about since the last awareness month? We spent weeks and months arguing over whether to screen women once a year or once every other year. The public and media were up in arms because a group of objective experts questioned the benefit and frequency of mammography screening. Should we let women decide what to do? Or should we just tell them? We argued over whether a new drug that shrank a tumor for several weeks but didn’t make women live longer, or improve their quality of life—and had life threatening side effects—was good enough. Such low expectations. We deserve more.
I don’t feel very pink about any of this. I feel angry. I am frustrated at the lack of progress. And I feel used. I have helped convince the government to give billions of dollars in research funding to the worldwide scientific community. I have seen others push to spend billions more in mammograms and billions in awareness campaigns. I have lost count of pink light bulbs. But I haven’t lost count of the too many women who have died.
When will we call for an end to this madness? When will we get serious about ending breast cancer?