More than 30,000 men, women and children, from all walks of life, of various cultures and religions, will gather together at Schenley Park this Sunday — Mother’s Day — to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer initiatives at the 18th Annual Komen Pittsburgh Race for the Cure.
Now, imagine the same scenario — thousands of people from diverse backgrounds, Muslims, Christians and Jews, uniting for the same cause — but change the backdrop to the perimeter of the Old City of Jerusalem.
This fall, in what will become an annual event for the first time, Israelis will be racing for the cure.
The Oct. 28 Jerusalem race will mark the first breast cancer awareness race of its kind in Israel, and is part of a weeklong program planned to enhance advocacy, screening and treatment of the disease, said Andrea Rader, spokesperson for Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
(It’s not the first breast cancer awareness event of any kind in Israel. In 2007, 60 Pittsburghers participated in Hilla BaGilil [Walking Together for Women’s Health] to raise funds for breast cancer research, support and education.)
Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer among women today. Worldwide, more than 1.3 million new breast cancer cases will be diagnosed this year, and more than 465,000 women with breast cancer will die from the disease.
Building on its long-standing mission to end breast cancer on a global scale, Komen, the world’s largest breast cancer organization, is partnering with the city of Jerusalem, Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, health advocates and scientists for a week of events in Israel to examine major scientific issues in breast cancer while advancing the international breast cancer movement.
While the Komen organization has sent delegations in recent years to other countries in the Middle East, Western Europe and Africa, the Israel Breast Cancer Collaborative will mark the first time a “think tank” will be assembled, bringing together 40 or 50 renown breast cancer researchers in an effort to come up with a more cost-efficient, and more portable, alternative to mammography.
“We need something better than mammography,” Rader said. “We think that a third of the women not getting mammograms are not getting them because they are unpleasant, and because they sometimes have to travel pretty far to get it. People say, ‘I’ll get that done, but I’ll get it done later.’”
Mammography is also a problem for those who are uninsured or under insured, Rader said, as some states now refuse to pay for screening for women in their 40s who have no known risk factors. These states, which include California, are following the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force’s recent recommendation that women delay mammography screening until age 50.
“As soon as the recommendation came out, we began getting e-mails from women saying, ‘I’m a vegan marathon runner, with no family history, and they found cancer on my mammogram,’ ” Rader said,
She emphasized that the Komen organization, along with the American Cancer Society and the American College of Radiology, still support early screening for breast cancer.
Mammography machines are also difficult to take to remote sites, making screening difficult for women who live in Third World countries, or even some rural areas in the United States. The development of a simple blood test to detect the disease would make screening for breast cancer accessible to many more women.
That is the goal of the upcoming think tank in Israel.
“We’re going to get the best and the brightest in a room together. We’re going to incentivize them and energize them,” said Rader, adding that she hoped the participants would be able to share information, then go back to their labs and solve this problem.
In addition to the “think tank,” the week in Israel will allow the Komen delegation to “give people tools and give financial support to help people learn about effective breast cancer advocacy,” Rader said.
An anticipated highlight of the week is, of course, the race itself.
“As a runner myself, I know the power of these events to unite people toward a common purpose,” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said in a prepared statement. “We have many different religions and nationalities in Israel. This race brings them together in fellowship with all people who face the impacts of this terrible disease. I am honored to open the gates of our unique city to any and all people who want to see a cure for breast cancer in our lifetime.”
Although this is Komen’s first delegation to Israel, the organization has been working with Israel for years, with Komen’s first international research grant going to Israel 16 years ago.
“We’ve been working in Israel a long time,” Rader said. “This is a delegation trip we’ve wanted to take for a long time. We’re very excited.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)