Rose Kushner started the Women’s Breast Cancer Advisory Center – now the "Rose Kushner Breast Cancer Advisory Center” – after she discovered her own breast cancer in 1974. A year later, the first of her four books about breast cancer was published – Breast Cancer: A Personal History and Investigative Report (Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich). Why Me? (Saunders Press / Holt Reinhardt) followed in 1982, and Alternatives: New Developments in the War Against Breast Cancer (Warner Books) in 1985. This is the ninth edition of If You’ve Thought About Breast Cancer…the series she started in 1979 that now bears her name in the title.
A fierce advocate of breast cancer patients’ rights, she was responsible for the recommendation of the 1979 Consensus Conference of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) that biopsy should be separated from treatment. This allows women who are newly diagnosed to have time to get second opinions, consider all their treatment alternatives and participate in the decision-making process.
In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed Rose to a six-year term on the National Cancer Advisory Board of the National Cancer Institute, giving her the national pulpit and direct influence in changing National Cancer Institute and Congressional priorities for breast cancer research. Soon after, she joined with the American Cancer Society, where she was a member of the ACS National Task Force on Breast Cancer, in lobbying the Congress in support of new initiatives.
She drew inspiration from every one of the thousands of women who read her books, heard her speak, wrote to her about their problems, and called at all hours of the day and night to talk with her. These experiences reinforced her resolve to change the future for all women and their daughters.
Rose thrived on the support from her many mentors who taught her about breast cancer. They, in fact, were more than mentors. They inspired and motivated her throughout her crusade. They were there for her when she was criticized for interfering with traditional prerogatives of doctors who, before her, had been women’s first and only source of information.
Many of these friends and mentors stand high among the heroes in breast cancer research and clinical practice: Dr. Bernard Fisher, first director of the NSABP (National Surgical and Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project); Dr. Philip Strax who, with epidemiologist Sam Shapiro, first proved the value of mammography screening in the U.S.; and Dr. Thomas Dao, chief of Breast Surgery and Breast Cancer Research at Roswell Park Memorial Cancer Institute, Rose’s personal physician.
Rose’s pioneering Women’s Breast Cancer Advisory Center, and the national organization, Y-ME (now called the Breast Cancer Network of Strength) inspired other women to take up the challenge. Sharon Green, Executive Director of Y-ME, was Rose’s early partner in lobbying the Congress to fund more breast cancer research.
Other friends and colleagues of Rose deserve recognition: fellow-members of the National Cancer Advisory Board of the NCI, who joined her to make breast cancer a priority within the national "War on Cancer”; U.S. Congressional Representative Mary Rose Oakar of Cleveland, Ohio, who successfully led the first effort in Congress to include the cost of mammography screening in Medicare; and Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, who led the fight in the Senate.
In 1986, Rose was succeeded on the National Cancer Advisory Board by Nancy Brinker, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan. Nancy started the Susan G. Komen Foundation in honor of her sister who died of breast cancer. The Komen Foundation has become an important source of research funds for promising scientists. Nancy also created and is a principal supporter of the Walks for Breast Cancer, that every year in October (National Breast Cancer Awareness Month) raises both awareness and money for research.
Rose received many awards for her books and articles in newspapers, national magazines and medical journals. Her promotion of breast cancer research while a member of the National Cancer Advisory Board, and her contributions to breast cancer education and patient advocacy, won her many national honors. Among them were the Gold Medal of Honor from the American Cancer Society in 1987 and the James Ewing Layman’s Award from the Society of Surgical Oncologists
That so much progress has been made since Rose died in January 1990 is due to a remarkable legion of women who followed after her and, especially, the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC). The NBCC is women’s Washington lobby organization most responsible for the great expansion in government breast cancer research funds. Extraordinary credit goes to Fran Visco, President of the NBCC, and herself a breast cancer survivor.
Breast cancer now is a national priority – recognized in Congressional sponsorship of expanded basic and clinical research funding. It is also evidenced in the expanded scope and depth of research programs sponsored by the NCI and the Department of Defense. This energy and passion is found in the work of all the organizations which, in the best tradition of Rose Kushner, are educating women about what they can and should do for themselves.