By Barbara Brenner
I have written many articles for this newsletter over many years — first as a BCA volunteer member, then as a chair of the BCA board, and for the past 15 years, as BCA’s executive director. BCA celebrates 20 years of incredible activism this fall, and I have personally witnessed a lot of that activity. Because we tend to get so engrossed in the day-to-day, I think we tend to forget all that got us to where we are today. So consider these selected highlights of BCA’s first 20 years of work:
• 1991: BCA founders and activists Elenore Pred, Susan Claymon, Belle Shayer, and Linda Reyes meet with the director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to demand that the NCI address the breast cancer epidemic. Keep in mind that 1991 is not so long ago, really.
• 1992: BCA helps create the California Breast Cancer Research Program, which has since, thanks to BCA’s continued involvement, become a leader in involving activists and advocates in research, and in restructuring how breast cancer research is funded and performed.
• 1993: BCA is the first organization to address the American Association for Advancement of Science regarding environmental links to breast cancer.
• 1996: BCA prevails in efforts to have tamoxifen added to California’s Prop. 65 list of known and probable carcinogens.
• 1997: BCA opposes routine mammography screening of women aged 40 to 49. In 2010, with emerging science, BCA recommits to this position.
• 1998: BCA becomes the first national breast cancer organization to adopt a policy against accepting funding from companies that profit from or contribute to cancer. By 2010, BCA is the only national breast cancer organization still independent of this kind of funding.
• 2000: BCA leads the call to guarantee that poor and uninsured women screened for breast cancer at state expense receive prompt access to quality treatment at state expense.
• 2001: BCA launches the Think Before You Pink campaign, transforming how the public and media think about cause marketing for breast cancer, and how other breast cancer organizations engage in that marketing.
• 2002: In partnership with the Breast Cancer Fund, BCA releases the first edition of the report “State of the Evidence: What Is the Connection Between the Environment and Breast Cancer?”
• 2003: BCA opposes the FDA’s decision to allow silicone breast cancer implants back into the market.
• 2004: BCA leads activists at the Avon shareholder meeting, calling for the company to remove harmful chemicals from its cosmetic products. This work ultimately leads to the creation of the National Safe Cosmetics Campaign and the California Safe Cosmetics law.
• 2005: BCA works closely with the cities of San Francisco and Berkeley to ensure timely and effective implementation of ordinances adopting the precautionary principle of public health as a matter of local policy.
• 2007: Consistent with its policy of opposing pills for the prevention of breast cancer, BCA successfully opposes the STELLAR trial of raloxifene and aromatase inhibitors in healthy women.
• 2009: BCA activists persuade General Mills to stop using rBGH-stimulated dairy products in its pink ribbon labeled Yoplait yogurt. Dannon follows suit and now two-thirds of the U.S. dairy market is rBGH free.
• 2010: BCA was one of the plaintiffs in the successful lawsuit brought by the ACLU and the Public Patent Foundation challenging patents on the breast cancer genes BRCA-1 and 2.
These accomplishments — and many more not listed here (check out the BCA Timeline for more information) — are the result of an amazing amount of work by lots and lots of people, some known and many more unknown. In a column I recently read about the struggle for women’s suffrage in the United States, the columnist wrote: “We always need to remember that behind almost every great moment in history, there are heroic people doing really boring and frustrating things for a prolonged period of time.”
There is still so much to do before we can declare the breast cancer epidemic over and close BCA’s doors. (After all, a cancer organization whose goal isn’t to go out of business is in the wrong line of work.) And it’s important to remember that all change takes long, hard work. But there are successes along the way, and we need to celebrate those at every opportunity.
As I prepare to hand over the reins at BCA to the next executive director and retire from paid work at the end of 2010, I am intensely aware of how many people have made BCA what it is today. I have been honored to lead this fine organization, and I look forward to seeing — and supporting — BCA’s next successes.