The members of Breast Cancer Over Time are all breast cancer survivors. Between us, we have months and months of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone treatments for breast cancer, and we have years and years of living with breast cancer. Between us, we have scores of mothers and grandmothers and sisters and aunts and cousins and friends diagnosed with breast cancer. Many of us have children, including young daughters at higher risk of breast cancer, just because they are our daughters.
Breast Cancer Over Time began as a hospital-based support group of women in treatment for breast cancer and living with breast cancer post-treatment. We often have conversations about how each of us might have gotten breast cancer, and our theories were as varied as our lives. But the talk would inevitably turn to larger societal causes, chief among them the environmental causes of breast cancer, the milieu of chemical and toxic exposures in our lives that we know one way or another, genetic tendencies or not, brought all of us to our cancer diagnoses.
As members of our group began to emerge from the throes of active treatment, and we could think beyond the immediacy of saving our own lives, our discussions turned to what we could do to prevent our own young daughters and their friends and neighbors – indeed, the whole next generation of young women - from getting breast cancer.
And so we delved into research on the the causation and the prevention of breast cancer. One of our members had donated breast cells for research during her cancer surgery, so we met with the scientist at the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute who studied her cells. She explained to us the current status of breast cancer research. She explained why so much money is available for research into "the cure” – research that is so very marketable to the big drug companies and the big medical centers who treat people who are already sick. And she explained to us how little funding is available to study breast cancer prevention – because prevention doesn’t make money for anyone – it just saves our breasts and saves our lives by keeping us from getting sick in the first place. She explained to us how most cancer research does not focus on the cellular processes of the breast carcinogenesis, on how a human breast cell actually becomes vulnerable to cancer. And she explained to us her own research, which studies the impact of commonly-encountered chemicals on healthy human breast cells.
We need a paradigm shift in breast cancer research so that we get answers to what causes cancer faster – in time to actually protect the next generation. And we need answers based on strong scientific information, from studies that advance our understanding of what actually causes cancer and how it causes it, so we can use that information now to protect the next generation – our own children and everyone else’s children, too. We decided to seek out, support, and advocate for this type of research however we could. Today, our top priority is finding women willing to donate healthy breast cells for research into the causation and prevention of breast cancer.
With this mission, BCOT incorporated as a 501(c)3 nonprofit in 2015. We applied for a Community-Based Participatory Research grant from the California Breast Cancer Research Program, and, together with our scientific research partner, CPMCRI, were awarded $280,000 in grant funding in a competitive process for a pilot study on the effect of chemicals commonly found in cosmetics that may make healthy breast cells more vulnerable to cancer. We started a professionally-led, community-based support group serving women at every stage of the breast cancer treatment and survivorship journey which meets weekly at a local church. And, in early 2016, we launched the Tinka Gordon Memorial Fund (in honor of a dear friend who lost her breast cancer battle a year before) to support expansion of scientific research into breast cancer causation and prevention.