By Shaina R. Gross
This is the third decade of having a National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. This year, we’re reigniting the sense of urgency to end breast cancer forever by highlighting the unacceptable fact that more than 41,000 people die each year from breast cancer in the United States alone. That’s one woman a day in San Diego.
Due in large part to the success of Susan G. Komen’s ability to bring breast cancer out of the shadows and celebrate those who have survived the disease, many consider breast cancer to be an issue that is no longer an urgent concern. But we hear daily from women, men and their families just how urgent it is.
Our “Bold Goal” is to reduce the current number of breast cancer deaths by 50 percent in the United States by 2026. There is more work to do, but first let’s look at the successes we’ve had in San Diego since last October.
A Year of Victories
Real change comes from changing the system. With the support of Gov. Jerry Brown, Assemblymember Monique Limón, and many others in our legislature, we ensured that out-of-pocket costs for oral chemotherapy remain low. Breast cancer treatment is expensive, and costs rack up quickly.
In some instances, San Diegans might find themselves making the difficult decision between paying their rent or their treatment. Women report breaking their pills in half because they can’t afford the monthly cost.
A clause in California’s oral anti-cancer medication-parity law was in jeopardy of expiring, meaning instead of the $250 maximum out of pocket copay, patients could be stuck paying thousands of dollars for their medications. The Governor signed our sponsored legislation, Assembly Bill 1860, into law last month, protecting cancer patients in California.
Additionally, this summer we successfully removed the 18- and 24-month treatment caps in the state-funded Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Program, with the leadership of Sen. Toni Atkins. Now uninsured and under-insured Californians will be able to complete their full prescribed treatment plans without an arbitrary time limit.
With the compassionate support of San Diego donors and our corporate partners, Komen San Diego made sure breast cancer patients’ rent was paid. We made sure they had warm meals, could afford their medication, and had someone by their side as they navigated the maze of doctors’ appointments, treatments and protocols.
Last year, Komen San Diego invested $265,000 in international research, bringing our affiliate’s total investment to almost $6 million funding the best and brightest minds working on cures. I’m proud to say that many of those minds are right here in San Diego at the Salk Institute, UC San Diego and Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute.
Medi-Cal reimbursement rates are so low that most San Diego breast cancer surgeons do not accept it. San Diegans are forced to go out of county for their treatment, put their name on six-month wait lists for a surgery, or forgo it all together. This is unacceptable.
Additionally, we know that some communities are disproportionately impacted by breast cancer. African-American women have a 41 percent higher mortality rate from breast cancer than their white counterparts. We partner with community clinics, non-profit organizations, the faith community, and trusted leaders to develop relationships, to learn about the unique needs in specific communities and to make sure we are filling the gaps in care.
Lastly, metastatic breast cancer, the most advanced stage of breast cancer, also known as Stage IV, takes almost 41,000 lives every year. Researchers do not fully understand what causes MBC and, as a result, don’t yet know how to prevent or treat it effectively. But they are working hard to find answers, and Komen is dedicated to helping them. This year our research grants represent a shift in our focus, with research into metastatic breast cancer and treatment resistance now making up 70 percent of our overall portfolio — up from 40 percent the previous year.
So, this October remember that pink is more than just a color; it represents the urgent need to increase access to care, increase funding for research and continue improving the laws in the fight against the most frequently diagnosed cancer worldwide. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. Join us this October. Be More Than Pink.
Shaina R. Gross is president and CEO of Susan G. Komen San Diego.
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: