From the Executive Director: A Day at a Time: Taking the Long View

by Barbara A. Brenner

It’s the end of September as I write this column, but by the time you read it, another year will be ending. I’m now thinking about what this year has meant for people with and at risk for breast cancer and for BCA’s work to carry the voices of people affected by the disease.

You may have noticed that there seems to have been a breast cancer study in the news almost every day in the past year. From MRIs to new treatments to DDT and beyond, hardly a day went by that didn’t result in a breathless report of a new breast cancer “breakthrough.” The increased pace of release of study results reflects in large part the fact that, since the early 1990s, enormous amounts of money have been poured into breast cancer research. That investment has filled the breast cancer research pipeline, as the studies that have been funded move toward completion. The result is a new report every day. More often than not, the studies rarely justify the excitement they generate in the press. And what we’ve seen in 2007 in terms of study results is the beginning of a tidal wave.

BCA has worked hard to keep up with—and deconstruct—the breaking news in the past year so that we can provide useful information to people struggling with decisions. We’ve also continued to work on the issues that have been at the core of our work for many years: advocating for more effective and less toxic treatments, advancing universal access to quality health care, and advancing research and policies addressing the environmental links to breast cancer.

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And we’ve made some progress in the past year:

  • When the FDA approved Tykerb, a new breast cancer drug, BCA highlighted—and the agency noted—the problem of approving drugs for metastatic disease without knowing whether the drug will prolong survival or improve the quality of life.
  • When the health care debate in California became dominated by the business interests of men in suits, BCA worked with our women’s health allies to bring the voices of poor and underserved women into the health care reform discussion.
  • As the struggle over whether to move forward with a trial testing an aromatase inhibitor in women without breast cancer heated up, BCA members successfully encouraged the NCI director to put women’s health first and cancel the trial. (For more information, read “BCA Cheers STELLAR Cancellation,” in the BCA Source #98, October 2007.)
  • As more people have learned about the resources available at BCA, we were contacted by and able to help more and more folks struggling with decisions about breast cancer.
  • We were greatly cheered by the increasing acknowledgement in the scientific community of the role of involuntary environmental exposures in triggering breast cancer.

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At the same time, all of us involved in the day-to-day work of BCA recognize that as we make progress on the issues we care about, we need to look at all that we are doing and be strategic about the role we play in the breast cancer movement and in our use of limited resources. To that end, we have been engaged, for the first time since 1998, in an in-depth strategic planning process.

That process involves looking carefully at all we do and asking people who know our work about how we are perceived and what, in their view, we do best. This information will help us focus our activities on the most significant trends in breast cancer that will most benefit from BCA’s approach.

Since we have not completed this challenging process, we don’t yet know exactly how, if at all, our programmatic work will change. We do know that the critical analysis we provide, and our focus on engaging people on taking action on breast cancer issues, will continue to be key features of our work. And we know that by framing breast cancer issues in a social justice frame and highlighting the ways in which they can be successfully addressed only through systemic change we will continue to lead the breast cancer movement.

Breast cancer is a lens through which many issues of women’s and men’s lives can be viewed and addressed if people just like you are willing to put on these glasses and engage this work. Here at BCA we’re taking the long view and working to make it a reality, a day at a time.

In 2000, Barbara Brenner wrote an executive director’s column about the mission of BCA, and how that mission addressed the most pressing issues in breast cancer at the time. To see how much—and how little—has changed in the breast cancer world, read “Carrying the Voices: Advancing BCA’s Mission,” in BCA Newsletter #62, November/December 2000.

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