Why Advocacy?

The fight against breast cancer and other women’s cancers is staged on many different battlegrounds, not just the clinic. To save lives, we must educate women everywhere about the best ways to prevent and detect cancer early. In many countries, breast and cervical cancers are still shameful conditions, and women are afraid to seek medical attention for their symptoms until it’s too late.

In the U.S., the breast cancer advocacy movement, begun in the 1970s, changed public perception of this disease. Previously, breast cancer was very taboo, and women often did not share their diagnosis with others. The advent of breast cancer awareness movements and survivor spokeswomen made it possible for women to connect with each other for support and knowledge.

Our advocacy summits and programs, along with many other cancer advocacy groups around the world, have enabled women to connect to other cancer survivors, to learn how early detection could save their lives, to take control of their medical care, and to shake the stigma of a cancer diagnosis.

Women’s cancer awareness and education is also essential to changing public policy and increasing funding to bring the best treatments and technologies to the clinic where they can be of most use, while respecting the resources and cultural attitudes of a given region.

The advent of patient advocates

In many countries around the world, a breast cancer advocacy movement came later or not at all. When WE CAN co-founder Dr. Julie Gralow first visited Ukraine in 1997, she found that many times doctors there did not even reveal to breast cancer patients their actual diagnosis. Dr. Gralow and her colleagues, in a project coordinated by PATH, worked with a group of Ukrainian clinicians to develop ways to speak with their patients openly about breast cancer; this new approach and the group’s other educational work quickly caught on in the country and spurred several more breast cancer advocacy efforts. In just two years, from 1999 to 2001, the number of breast cancer support groups in Ukraine increased from zero to 15.

Ukraine patient advocates
Patient advocates in Ukraine

Emotional support

The emotional support from these networks of survivors and advocates cannot be underestimated, but destigmatizing women’s cancers is also essential to educate women about early detection. If the disease is not discussed, women cannot learn about screening methods such as regular mammography, Pap smears, breast self-exams, or steps they could take to reduce their risk of disease. Early detection is key to saving more lives from cancer.

As more women are diagnosed earlier and cancer treatments improve, advocacy and awareness groups must also take into account the concept of survivorship. A cancer diagnosis is a life-changing event, and struggle with the disease is almost always long-term. Our advocacy programs incorporate other aspects of a cancer patient’s life outside of medical treatment, such as employment, insurance, support for caregivers and cancer’s effect on the patient’s family and friends.

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