Tuesday, May 03, 2011

No More Riding the Wave

Is it possible to end breast cancer?

That’s the question more than 800 advocates addressed this weekend at the annual meeting of the National Breast Cancer Coalition in Washington, DC. NBCC has set an aggressive—some say impossible—goal of ending breast cancer by January 1, 2020.

Attending this conference has always been a highlight of my year. After almost ten years at Living Beyond Breast Cancer, it’s pretty easy to get lost in paperwork and office politics. This conference reminds me of one of the major reasons I got into breast cancer advocacy in the first place: to speak for those who have no voice.

It’s shocking, but many more women have been silenced by breast cancer than you might think. It is easy to be lulled into complacency by the ocean of pink, riding the wave of good feeling that comes from buying products that support breast cancer. Even I succumb to it from time to time, although I see and talk and write about the ravages of this disease every day. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t take issue with people who wear or buy pink to show their support to women with breast cancer. I just don’t think doing that alone is enough.

Why? Because according to NBCC’s research:

  • In 2008, 1.4 million women worldwide were diagnosed with breast cancer. Nearly half a million died.

  • In 1991, an estimated 119 U.S. women died of breast cancer every day. In 2010, it was 110.

  • In 1975, about 10 out of every 100,000 U.S. women were diagnosed with stage IV (metastatic) breast cancer. That number is the same today.

  • In 1975, women with metastatic disease had an estimated 0 percent chance of living five years after diagnosis. Today, the chances have grown—to around 35 percent.

I don’t know about you, but this representation of “progress” simply isn’t good enough for me. It’s not good enough for the strong, talented, beautiful, intelligent women I meet every day at my job. They deserve so much better than 35 percent.

NBCC launched its campaign, called The Breast Cancer Deadline 2020, in September 2010. At the conference, I got a copy of the baseline status report, which explains how NBCC will measure its success each year until 2020. The twin goals are to uncover methods of preventing first-time breast cancer, and to halt the recurrence of already diagnosed disease. If I could, I would add a third goal, to find cures for women facing breast cancer now.

I was extremely skeptical when I first heard about this campaign. Breast cancer is an incredibly complex disease. In fact, it’s not one disease; it’s a family of diseases related by their origination in the breast. They grow for different reasons and along different pathways. Some go away and never come back; others attack with relentlessness until they overwhelm the body. How can we set a goal when we have no idea what we’re facing?

I think Fran Visco, NBCC’s president, said it best. “What if we fail? We have already failed.

I don’t know whether it’s possible to meet this deadline. But I believe it is possible to see a problem differently. To step back for a moment, to give the problem a fresh look. To ask the math teacher for her perspective on history. To spend hours composing a piece of music, only to throw it away and start afresh. It is possible to hear the same words a thousand times but to understand their meaning only when spoken by a different voice. To change the conversation.

I am on board. Are you with us?

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Adopt this Cat!

I am urgently looking for someone to adopt a stray cat from my South Philly neighborhood. If you aren’t interested in a cat for yourself, please pass this message along to other cat lovers you know!

The cat is less than a year old and my neighbors have named him “Alley.” (They thought Ali, with the double meaning, because they believed the cat was female, but I’ve pretty much confirmed he’s male!) He’s affectionate, well fed and likes to play. He has been around other cats and seen Nanuq and Tug through my storm door. If I thought I could handle another cat, I would definitely take in this little guy. He was born outside in the alley behind my house, and a sweet Italian lady was taking care of him until about a week ago, when she passed away.

I am hoping to get the cat adopted by Thursday. If that’s not possible, I may still be able to get the cat to you late the following week. I’m willing to drive him about an hour any direction from Philadelphia either tonight or Wednesday night or next week. He will need to go to a vet for tests and shots, and you will have to say some prayers for me that I can catch him.

If you’re interested yourself, drop me an email and we can talk about him. If you pass this along to friends I don’t know, they should mention they know YOU so I know they are legitimate. If you are a friend of a friend, I will ask you to provide a vet or personal reference and pay a $25 adoption fee so that I know this cat isn’t going to a testing facility or will meet some other nefarious end.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

My First Day Working from Home

On Friday I (officially) worked from home for the first time. Through the end of the summer, my boss at Living Beyond Breast Cancer has given her blessing for me to spend one blissful day each week writing and editing from the solitude of my house.

I woke up at 7:30 a.m., an hour later than usual, and showered, moisturized and dressed. Instead of rushing through a hastily prepared breakfast, I sat at my table and tasted my food. Then I walked to Dunkin' Donuts for a large iced coffee, which I drank quickly in order to pump some energy into my system.

I worked for four-and-a-half hours without interruption, writing three stories, answering a dozen e-mails, approving two designs. I even interviewed one of our consitituents. Instead of rushing the woman through our conversation--the norm lately, since I have no time to think--I listened to her. She is a 14-year breast cancer survivor, a woman retiring from our Helpline after eight years, and she shared her philosophy of volunteerism as an act of both giving and self-care. I was surprised to find myself wiping away tears.

I took a break at 1:00 p.m. and stuck a veggie burger in the toaster oven. Then I went for a short walk on the square surrounding the Girard Estate, the namesake of this neighborhood. As I wandered narrow streets, I saw cat after cat curled into a ball in the front window. During the day, our pets slumber. I had witnessed this miracle in my own home. Nanuq, who just two nights before had frightened the cable guy by knocking over the box he was repairing, lay on his back beneath the kitchen window, stomach exposed, paws in the air. Tug was in the front window, tucked into the only corner not shaded by an oak tree.

In the afternoon I interviewed another volunteer and edited three stories. The cats woke up once, when my neighbor and his young daughter tapped on the window. I stopped my work for a moment to toss them a ball and give treats. Poking my head out front, I saw two of my neighbors, house-husbands who walked back and forth with babies swaddled against them.

I worked until 5:30, resisting the urge to get "just" a little more done. I put away the laptop and headed to the yard to do some weeding. After an hour I stopped to make dinner, finishing in time to see the Phillies win a tight one. All in all, a pretty perfect day.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Eau de Bacon

With baseball in full swing and the TV season almost at its end, I'm spending more than my fair share of time parked in front of the television. Yesterday I saw two commercials within 10 minutes that promoted the virtues of bacon.

The first, for Taco Bell's bacon club chalupa, shows a lovely blonde and brunette in a bar. The brunette has tucked a bacon club chalupa into her tiny handbag. "Guys love bacon," she says. The blonde doesn't believe the bacon will attract men, but as soon as the brunette opens her purse, three hot guys make a beeline for them. "What is that you're wearing?" one man asks. Sniff, sniff, noses in the air. "It's...intoxicating!"

The second, for Purina's Beggin' strips, features a handsome golden retriever. He awakens from a nap to the smell of bacon. Sniff, sniff, nose in the air. The dog bolts through the house, knocking over toys, disturbing Dad and generally running roughshod through every room in his singleminded quest. Finally, he finds Mom, who bestows the bacon. After swallowing it whole, the retriever jumps up, licks her on the face and says, "I love you."

These commercials have given me some ideas. Perhaps for my next date I should fry some bacon and dab the fat behind my ears. Or carry some in my pocketbook so I can slip it into my date's sandwich if things aren't looking promising. These methods are sure to get a male of some species panting.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year

My time in Rockport is almost at an end. I head back tomorrow via Amtrak to the crazy-busy streets of Philadelphia. Broad Street will be filled with Mummers and New Years Day revellers. But I'm most looking forward to curling up with Nanuq and Tug and getting my house in order.

I love coming here, and not just because I get to see my parents. Only about 7,000 people live in Rockport in the winter, and I enjoy walking the Old Garden Path along the Atlantic Ocean. The trail leads through bramble brush to overlooks for quiet contemplation, where regardless of the time of year you can hear the water splashing against the rocks and inhale the fishy, salty smell of the sea. A walk down Bearskin Neck off Main Street rewards with good views of Motif No. 1 (above), one of the most painted and photographed sites in the world.

The goal is to hold the ocean in my mind once I return to my life, to remember how it centers and feeds me. I hope you have a place that does the same for you, and that you will carry it in your mind in 2008. Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

My New Boyfriend

When visiting one's parents as an adult, one expects to endure some indignities: sleeping on the couch, being spoken to and, therefore, responding like a 13-year-old, etc. Getting humped by a dog, however, is not one of them.

My new boyfriend is a 14-month-old cockapoo. Alfie is a little hairer and a lot blonder than I usually like my men. I do, however, admire his aggressive approach, which echoes the human dating game.

Last night as I warmed myself by the fire, Alfie approached with his favorite toy, a purple ball stuffed inside a sock-like yellow packet. As I threw the toy across the room, we began the mating dance: he feigning interest and then, when I showed some, retreating to the other side of the room. Then, suddenly, with no preparation, he got on his hind legs. At first I thought he was trying to be cute, but then he thrust himself upon my right arm. I pushed him away, but he persisted. This continued for several minutes, as my mother put forth a torrent of inappropriate comments about what her grandchild might look like. Lessons I learned from this experience:

  • If you are not interested, do not stoop to his level
  • Do not mistake cute looks for innocent intentions
  • Do not engage in cat and mouse unless you can back the game with actions

I worried about his feelings, but Alfie has moved on. Just this morning he was shut into the bedroom with me. He stared at the door and refused to look at me. He cried and cried, until my mother opened the door and released him.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Turtle No. 21

After sleeping off our night walk, we had a lunch of rice, beans and pickled vegetables prepared by a local mother-daughter team. Then Chau and I built nests for the hatchery. These consist of sheets of chicken wire sown into cylinders with plastic fly line, then draped over one end with wire netting. The nests are placed over man-made turtle nests to keep out birds and other animals.

My elaborate stitching won me the award for most perfectionistic. Even on vacation I couldn't help but undertake my responsibilities with utmost seriousness. It took me three times as long as Chau to finish my nests. Afterward, he and I used silvery paint to cover the metal grates on the windows and doors of the project site. Then a group of us went to the hatchery to dig holes and check on the turtle eggs, a responsibility each group undertook every few hours.

No change. For several hours we read and played cards. Then someone ran back from the hatchery: a group of baby olive ridleys had been born.

We rushed to the hatchery, where the turtles clambered over each other in an effort to flee the nest. They looked like a cuter version of squirming earthworms. We donned plastic gloves to protect us and the ridleys from species-specific germs, and each person took turns counting out five turtles and putting them in a plastic bucket. I picked up Turtle No. 21 between my thumb and forefinger as he flailed. He measured about 2 centimeters but felt strong.

We continued in this fashion until we got to Turtle No. 102. As we gathered our things to treck to the ocean, Tammy and Roxanna noticed a tiny squirming head deep in the sand. I plucked Turtle No. 103 from his coocoon, and we headed for the beach.

Our entire GAP Adventures group joined us, as did seven newcomers from Great Britain. We stood about 20 feet from the water. Tammy tipped over the plastic pail holding the turtles, and they began their journey to the sea. Over the next 15 minutes, in a light, refreshing rain, we watched them flop over the sand, making light tracks in their wait. They approached the water one by one, and as the tide came in, it gently swept them away.

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