A guest post by Andrea DuBrow and Wendel Brunner
Breast Cancer Action, the public health communities of the Bay Area and Wisconsin, and a multitude of close friends lost a dear friend and fierce ally on February 27, 2023. Kim Cox was a board member of Breast Cancer Action from 2005-2008 who devoted her entire professional life to public health causes. As an ovarian cancer survivor, Kim had an insatiable zest for life and expressed her gratitude for being alive every day. Her work in breast cancer prevention, detection and treatment, and unwavering support to anyone experiencing a health crisis were among her life’s passions. When not working tirelessly on these issues, she could be found baking gorgeous cakes and cookies, nurturing a cadre of children as their honorary or designated (fairy) Godmother, exploring the world through travel, planning the best Halloween or Academy Awards party, and expressing a deep love for her animals, or anyone else’s.
In the 1980s, Kim led the peer-based AIDS prevention program at the first school-based health center at Balboa High School in San Francisco, and still has a fan club of now midlife, former high school students who thanked her and loved her up in Dolores Park, San Francisco, shortly before she died.
Kim also worked at Planned Parenthood and the California Department of Public Health, before she landed her dream job in the late 1990s running the Breast Cancer Partnership. This was an outreach and breast cancer screening program for un/underinsured women in Contra Costa County. Kim’s experience as an ovarian cancer survivor was fresh, and her work on breast cancer was deeply personal, having also experienced losses of dear friends, Nancy and Karen, to breast cancer.
Black/African American women in Contra Costa, like the rest of the nation, had fewer incidences of breast cancer than white women, yet they suffered a higher mortality. Simply put, while fewer Black women got breast cancer, more Black women were dying from it, when compared to white women. The dominant (primarily white) medical “explanation” at the time was that African American women’s breast cancer tended to be more severe, but Kim refused to believe that. She knew that the data showed that African American women generally had breast cancer diagnosed at a later stage, when it was less curable, and she was determined to do something about that. Kim organized the African American Breast Cancer Task Force, which developed outreach programs to encourage African American women to get earlier breast cancer screenings. She also addressed cultural barriers that tackled women’s fears and resistance to getting screened. Kim’s work with the Task Force produced a beautiful calendar of African American breast cancer survivors in the community, which was proudly displayed in beauty shops, churches and community centers all around Richmond, CA. Through powerful and moving beautiful images of African American women, the calendar conveyed the message that a breast cancer diagnosis doesn’t automatically mean death for African American women in Contra Costa. The calendar, and a multitude of other activities including mobile screening and mammography at churches and other community locations led to a real change: By 2001, African American women in Contra Costa had their tumors diagnosed at the same early stages as white women. A few years later, the death rates equalized, too.
Kim made a difference in life, and her gift to Breast Cancer Action in her death continues to make a difference. We will not forget you, Kim. We join your beloved family and friends in remembering you and continuing our work against breast cancer in your honor.