It's November: Time to Talk About Elections, Turkey and Breast Cancer?

11/04/2010 02:05 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It's November. Another Breast Cancer Awareness Month has come and gone. But breast cancer hasn't. It's still here. It's still killing more than 1,400 women around the world each day. So what did we do about breast cancer this October? We talked a lot. We talked about the same old issues we've been talking about for the last 25 years and more. We lit a lot of things pink. We did the same old thing. The same old, same old will not end breast cancer.

It's time to change the conversation.

It's time to ask what it will take to end breast cancer. And then do it. Breast Cancer Deadline 2020 -- the end of breast cancer by January 1, 2020.

I've discussed it with scientists, researchers, policymakers, advocates and the conclusion is that ending breast cancer by 2020 requires a major shift in the way business is conducted. It requires a change in the conversation. In the way we talk about and deal with breast cancer.

That shift must take place in government, industry, health care, academia, as well as advocacy groups like the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC). The current system is not working -- a system in which we reward incremental progress, or even worse, no progress. A system where the focus is on whether it's better to screen women every year or every other year. A system where success is defined by getting the White House bathed in pink.

NBCC is building a movement of people -- visionaries, risk takers -- willing to take an entirely new approach to the way we think about, research and talk about breast cancer. All focused on the deadline. I know people say, "How are you going to do that?" Well, we're not. Not alone. All of us are. Working together we will lay the foundation over the next two-and-a-half years to ensure we reach our deadline to end breast cancer by January 1, 2020.

There is a plan. At its core, the deadline is centered on strategic summits, catalytic workshops and collaborative efforts with a multi-disciplinary and diverse group of stakeholders who are looking at strategies to achieve the goal. Actual steps to take, questions to answer. At NBCC, we have a long history of taking on big issues in breast cancer, challenging business as usual and facing controversy head on and achieving what some called the impossible.

In 2011, we will hold two strategic summits: one on how to stop breast cancer metastasis from taking women's lives and the other will focus on how to prevent the disease from developing. Summit participants will identify major issues that are ripe for further work and will have a significant impact on breast cancer in the next five years. Within two months of those summits, NBCC will publish a report and hold catalytic workshops around the issues identified in the summits. NBCC already has held its first catalytic workshop, with promising results. In March, we began looking at the feasibility of a preventive vaccine for breast cancer. Some of the leading breast cancer researchers, as well as a cadre of multi-disciplinary visionaries, are participating in this project.

We'll also develop a legislative component that addresses how governments should work and what role they must play to reach the goal.

And we will tell the world how it's going. Beginning with a baseline report in May 2011, NBCC will issue annual progress reports about the Breast Cancer Deadline 2020, summarizing the state of breast cancer as well as the state of our own work to end breast cancer.

So though it may be November and most people are packing up their pink until next October and shifting their conversations to turkey and holiday gifts, I will not shift the topic of my conversations nor will I ease off the focus of my work. I won't be packing up breast cancer. Nor will the 261,100 women in the United States who will be diagnosed with invasive and in situ breast cancer this year. Just think what a difference it would make if every media report, every talk show, every science meeting was about how to end breast cancer in ten years. Not why that can't happen but how it must, how it's possible and how we must do it.

I've heard some naysayers comment that setting a deadline is a bad thing to do because it always fails and people are disappointed. Funny, we never even tried to set a deadline, so how would we know it will fail? And disappointment? Be disappointed if no one tried because they were afraid it might fail.

It's November and at NBCC we are changing the conversation about breast cancer. We will talk about breast cancer every month -- every day -- until we end breast cancer. And we are doing more than talking. We're moving forward. Undaunted. Unafraid to fail. Are you with us?