By Lopa Pal

Dina Balatti is one of Breast Cancer Action’s superstar volunteers. Born and raised in California’s Marin County, Dina graduated from U.C. Berkeley with degrees in sociology and psychology. After many years working in financial services marketing, she discovered event planning and opened her own business, Bella Celebrations. And we are so glad she did!

After learning about Breast Cancer Action in 2014, Dina offered to bring her immense talents to our three annual events: Action Speaks Louder Than Pink: Food for Thought, Acting Out-For the Health of It, and the Billie Gardner Loulan Memorial Benefit. She started out as an on-site event volunteer, then generously offered to help us organize our fundraisers from the ground up.

We reached out to Dina recently to find out how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting her as a person living with breast cancer, what brought her to Breast Cancer Action, and why she thinks our work is so important.

When we first scheduled this interview, we had no idea that we were about to experience a global pandemic! Can you talk about how the coronavirus has changed your day-to-day-life?

The shelter-in-place order is the main aspect of the COVID-19 health crisis that has impacted my life and health care. Three areas in particular have been affected:

Medical Appointments – From early April through early June, I have seven medical appts/tests/scans scheduled at several different facilities. I have already been told that most will likely be postponed or cancelled. Some are routine, some are not. Some are breast cancer related, some are not. I am also overdue for a new lymphedema sleeve but cannot be measured as the supplier I use is not making any appointments that are not ‘essential’. None of these appointments are things that cannot be postponed, and I would rather the healthcare workers use the facilities and supplies to treat those with more urgent needs.

Cancer Exercise Classes – After my cancer treatments, I became very involved in my oncologist-prescribed Cancer Exercise Programs in the San Francisco Bay Area — those providing cancer exercise classes for patients in treatment and recovery, those living with cancer as a metastatic disease, as well as for caregivers. I am PASSIONATE about this area of my life: I am an active student and advocate, and have been an instructor of Sunflower Wellness classes. Exercise is an integral part of my life. There is incredible value in participating in an exercise class with other people who are going through similar things. Group classes also provide emotional support for cancer patients in treatment and recovery.

I miss the personal interactions with my friends in these classes: the laughs, hugs, and sometimes the tears we share. But we call, we text, we share videos of new online classes. We help each other to cultivate peace in the present moment, and practice self-care in this uncertain time.

Breast Cancer Action’s 30th Anniversary Kickoff Reception – When Breast Cancer Action made the decision to postpone the 30th Anniversary Kickoff Reception, scheduled for March 11th, due to growing concerns about community spread of COVID-19, I knew that was the right call. It was a week before the shelter-in-place order in the first six California counties. While I was disappointed and looking forward to gathering with all of you, we will all have a renewed sense of gratitude and care for one another when we are able to have events again. That’s something I’m really looking forward to.

You have a very powerful story which you shared with us in an article for our website. Can you talk a little more about your experience with breast cancer?

I was diagnosed with early stage, estrogen positive breast cancer at the very end of 2013, at the age of 53. I had a lumpectomy with sentinel lymph nodes removed, and then radiation. I tried hormone therapy but couldn’t take the side effects of Tamoxifen or any aromatase inhibitor. During radiation, I developed chronic, but managed, lymphedema in my arm. After months of PT lymphedema treatment, I now wear a compression sleeve and glove, primarily for exercise (which I do A LOT).

Cancer had taken the lives of my father and sister, but as far as I know, there had been no breast cancer in my family. My mother passed away when I was 13, but not from cancer. Having a mother die so early in my life has prompted many questions over the years. After my breast cancer diagnosis, I have asked myself repeatedly what her life – and mine – would have been like if she had lived.

I am currently healthy, without any evidence of disease. I do not call myself a ‘Survivor’ – I CANNOT stand the term Survivor or any of the other war metaphors: I have had breast cancer, and do not like labels that pigeonhole me into boxes for other’s convenience.

After my active treatments ended, I decided to shift my event planning focus to health advocacy organizations supporting those with breast cancer.

We’re incredibly lucky to have you as a volunteer. Are there aspects of our work and our approach that made you decide to work with us instead of another organization?

Think Before You Pink – In October of 2014, as I was just completing my own breast cancer treatment and working on recovery, things were not settling right with me. It was Pinktober. Pink was everywhere and I felt like I had no choice but to jump on the bandwagon.

I began to question what I was seeing, hearing, reading, and being bombarded by in stores, the media, and my inbox. I dug deeper and found Breast Cancer Action. The Think Before You Pink® campaigns really resonated with me. I read everything I could about the history of the pink ribbon and the work of Barbara Brenner. The more I read the angrier I became. I realized that my cancer was being used by corporations and unsavory organizations to make money off of me for their own profits, and not for preventing or treating breast cancer. Think Before You Pink is what really made me to want to work with Breast Cancer Action.

Also the Lymphedema Treatment Act – Because I have lymphedema, I deeply care about the Lymphedema Treatment Act and I know Breast Cancer Action has been advocating for its passage for a decade.

Many people don’t realize that Medicare, and most insurers, don’t cover the medically necessary, doctor-prescribed compression supplies used daily in lymphedema treatment. I spend hundreds of dollars each year to purchase these items. The Lymphedema Treatment Act would amend the Medicare statute to allow for coverage of compression supplies—setting a precedent for other insurers to do the same.

I’m grateful to Breast Cancer Action for your work in support of this crucial legislation.

Personal Care Product Safety – Another eye opener after my diagnosis was in the area of Personal Care Product Safety. I wanted to learn the science behind what was in our products, in order to help myself and others (whether they have cancer or not) take the best possible care of themselves. As my breast cancer is estrogen positive, I initially focused more on endocrine disruptors. But my interests and concern have since expanded far beyond that, and Breast Cancer Action has helped to increase my awareness, education, and activism surrounding these issues.

For my own education, I have done a lot of writing on this subject, creating a compilation of articles, commentary, newsletters and research, and some personal rants on environmental concerns specifically relevant to my breast cancer experience. The intro to my paper is dedicated to Breast Cancer Action.

Breast Cancer Action is OUR watchdog, OUR honest voice, OUR independent advocate that fights for patients over profits. No one else does what Breast Cancer Action can, as an independent health justice advocate taking on controversial issues and fighting for important and life-saving policies.