October. Another breast cancer awareness month with buildings and bridges aglow in pink. One year since the last one. And around the world another 500,000 women dead of breast cancer. Almost 40,000 in this country alone. Actually, this is the 25th breast cancer awareness month. We are being asked to celebrate that fact - which is symptomatic of the problem. Why do we try so hard to make breast cancer palatable, comfortable, pink? I really don't feel like celebrating.
Twenty five years ago, in the United States, 110 women died of breast cancer every day. Twenty five years and billions of private and public research dollars later, that number is 110. Every day. Not much progress, is it?
What have we been talking about since the last awareness month? We spent weeks and months arguing over whether to screen women once a year or once every other year. The public and media were up in arms because a group of objective experts questioned the benefit and frequency of mammography screening. Should we let women decide what to do? Or should we just tell them? We argued over whether a new drug that shrank a tumor for several weeks but didn't make women live longer, or improve their quality of life -- and had life threatening side effects -- was good enough. Such low expectations. We deserve more.
I don't feel very pink about any of this. I feel angry. I am frustrated at the lack of progress. And I feel used. I have helped convince the government to give billions of dollars in research funding to the worldwide scientific community. I have seen others push to spend billions more in mammograms and billions in awareness campaigns. I have lost count of pink light bulbs. But I haven't lost count of the too many women who have died.
When will we call for an end to this madness? When will we get serious about ending breast cancer?
How about now? It is time. Twenty years ago, after my diagnosis, I joined a group of women who launched the National Breast Cancer Coalition with a mission to end breast cancer. We thought our work would be complete by now. It's not. Over the past two decades I have seen science develop incredible technology that could help find answers and expand our understanding of the disease. It is now time to harness all of this knowledge and all of these tools. It is time for a new approach and a refocus on our goal: not the goal of a new drug or a new way to find cancer. That is just not good enough. The goal needs to be the end of breast cancer. At the current rate of progress it could be 500 years before that happens. And that makes me very angry.
We're setting a deadline: end breast cancer by January 1, 2020. And we have a plan to get there. Many will say it cannot be done. But we have never tried. They will say that science doesn't work that way. Well, it can and it must. It is time. A deadline changes everything.
I know it is controversial to declare a deadline. I know that, to say the least, it will be exceedingly difficult to achieve it. But that is how it should be. There is comfort in arguing over mammograms. We have been doing that for more than 30 years. We know about that, we cling to it, no matter what the evidence tells us. We cheer every new drug as though it were a real breakthrough, though none of them are. We feel safe and somehow hopeful if there are new drugs to take, even if they have little or no benefit. It's time to give up comfort. It's time to give up easy. It's time to give up good enough.
Between now and the next breast cancer awareness month hundreds of thousands of women will die of breast cancer. How many more of these "celebrations" will you accept? It is time to get real about ending breast cancer. Take all of that energy pushing for awareness and let's come together to achieve the deadline. It's time to give up hope and take up action. Get angry. Get motivated. Get on board. Tick tock.
Follow Fran Visco on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Deadline2020