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Behind the Pink: How Susan G. Komen Is (Still) Fighting Breast Cancer in Seattle

By Lyric Esparza

Have we become desensitized to little pink ribbons?

In the early 2000s, “breast cancer awareness” began to sizzle in the media. Pink ribbons peppered the bumpers of minivans and SUVs and women started pinning them to their purses. All sorts of sponsored races started popping up in the springtime. Then, the “i love boobies” phase came along and it seemed like the whole breast cancer community had muddled their narrative a bit.

But in 2014, Tig Notaro’s now iconic set about being diagnosed with the disease spread across the internet, and rekindled empathy for a disease that is alive and well – taking the lives of 40,000 people a year.

Susan G. Komen – the organization that birthed those little ribbons – has sought to take back the power from breast cancer. Christi Ball Loso, the Senior Public Relations Manager for the Puget Sound Affiliate of Komen, spoke of a time when women were not able to “talk openly about breast cancer.”

At Komen’s inception, “women suffered breast cancer in silence and even shame,” Loso said. Komen has worked so hard to remove this stigma, it is now difficult to imagine a time when open discussions about breast cancer weren’t colloquial.

All photos courtesy of Susan G. Komen Puget Sound / Facebook.

All photos courtesy of Susan G. Komen Puget Sound / Facebook.

Loso – who lost a close friend to breast cancer – is passionate about humanizing the terms. Komen recently launched a campaign called More Than Pink, which intends to melt some of the ice from hearts of people who may have forgotten the point of all that pink in the first place.

More Than Pink focuses on the individuals who have done great things in the fight against breast cancer, like Bosnian refugee Nela Hasic who returned to her country to change the way Bosnians thought about breast cancer and remove the stigma so that women could be treated.

Father-daughter duo Vanessa and Arnaldo Silva were both diagnosed with breast cancer and fought alongside each other to recovery – they even created a documentary called “Men Have Breasts Too” to heighten awareness of male breast cancer.

Locally, Komen and Comcast partnered together for a More Than Pink PSA that features the Seahawks’ Steven Hauschka along with Van Berman, a sixth-grade field goal kicker for the Snohomish Jr. Football Team. When Van found out his friend’s mom was fighting breast cancer he collected pledges for every field goal he kicked at a recent game – and so far has raised $2,500 for Komen Puget Sound.

Van Berman & Steven Hauschka.

Van Berman & Steven Hauschka.

In Seattle, Komen has continually invested in local initiatives benefiting breast cancer treatment, awareness and research. In 2015, the Puget Sound Affiliate raised a total of almost $2.8 million and spent nearly every penny on local grants, outreach and research.

According to Komen’s annual report, in 2015 25.7% of Komen’s revenue was put towards local grants that further research into breast cancer – including, Loso said, “$800,000 in research funding to scientists at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington.

The four local grantees include Dr. Benjamin Anderson, a surgical oncologist who will work to “assess breast health care needs in low and middle income countries.” Dr. Mary L. Disis of the Tumor Vaccine Group – which works to prevent and treat cancer with “novel, immune based approaches” – will be working to develop a vaccine to block inflammation in obese, fatty tissue in an effort to reduce the incidence of breast cancer in obese women.

Komen Puget Sound’s biggest win this year, Loso said, was the Northwest Metastatic Breast Cancer Conference. In recent years, Komen has focused a lot of resources on metastatic (Stage IV) breast cancer. The currently incurable diagnosis means that the cancer has spread to other parts of the body like the liver, brain, lungs or bones.

The conference, which was held in October, drew attendance from patients, caregivers, medical professionals and leading researchers to talk about new science, advocacy and ways to improve quality of life. Loso proudly said, “The event was designed by and for those living with metastatic breast cancer, and they attended free of charge.”

Every four years, Komen Puget Sound conducts a “needs assessment report,” which synthesizes extensive research on our community so they can “make informed decisions on how the affiliate can use its resources to make the greatest impact on breast cancer in the area.

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According to the assessment, Komen Puget Sound has spent over $29 million in local nonprofit, tribal and government agencies over the last twenty-two years. In 2014 alone, they reached more than 13,000 low income and uninsured women with vital health services.

In the 2015 assessment, Komen was able to identify which area of Seattle was most expensive for breast health procedures (King County) and which populations were affected the most. For example, Grays Harbor County had the “highest proportion of new cases of advanced stage breast cancer.”

When those findings came to light, Komen Puget Sound pushed a significant amount of resources towards Grays Harbor. The assessment also provides a way to learn about and understand discrimination in our area’s medical care system. Then, Komen targets the most vulnerable populations (in 2015, it was American Indians and Alaska Natives) with support.

In 2017, Susan G. Komen looks forward to their 35th anniversary. Since 1982, Komen has been a leading voice in the fight against breast cancer, and they’re taking it up a notch with their Bold Goal: to reduce the number of breast cancer deaths in the U.S. by 50% in the next decade. In June 2017, Komen Puget Sound will once again hit the streets for the infamous Race For The Cure; registration will open in January here. If you’re looking to get involved and aren’t into cardio, Loso informs me that they always need help with major fundraising events, office help, advocacy and mission outreach. To be considered for a volunteer position, fill out an application here, and Komen will contact you with opportunities that match your interests.

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