It’s the first week of October and, as many will know, this is the month where an explosion of pink ribbons marks society’s efforts to remind women about the value of early detection. Have you ever wondered about the origins of raising funds for research into the cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure of breast cancer?
At the dawn of the 20th century, on 30 November 1900, Mary Woodard was born in Watertown, Wisconsin. As a little girl she visited, with her mother Sara, the family’s laundress who was recovering from radical mastectomies. Mary was haunted by the image of this young woman, a mother of five, who had to have her breasts removed, but she was equally inspired by the knowledge that the laundress survived the surgery and lived for some years after her visit.
In 1939 Mary married Albert Lasker, an advertising executive, and within ten years they had embarked on an ambitious campaign to raise significant funds for medical research, with a specific focus on cancer. With her extensive network of wealthy friends and his business acumen, they were the first to adapt the power of modern advertising to fight cancer. They joined a moribund organisation, transformed it into the American Cancer Society, and raised record amounts of money. In 1971 Mary persuaded the US Government to fund the “War on Cancer” and then, in 1985, the American Cancer Society joined forces with Imperial Chemical Industries – now AstraZeneca – to found National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
The platform is now international, with over 30 countries joining the campaign to make a difference in the lives of ordinary women. In Japan, the Tokyo Tower is lit up in pink on October 1, while the greenhouse of the botanical gardens in Curitiba, Brazil is illuminated in pink for the month (click image at right to enlarge). Here in South Africa, we have two fundraising charities, the Avon Foundation and the PinkDrive, that have made significant contributions to breast cancer education and diagnosis in the past few years.
When Mary Woodard Lasker died on 21 February 1994 she left behind an impressive legacy. Lest we forget: breast cancer does not confine itself to a 31-day period in October.