Math Problem

By Lissa Levin

Lissa Levin

Television comedy writer and playwright, Lissa Levin, graduated from Project LEAD® July 2012.

If a training program leaves the station on a Sunday at three p.m., asking 54 women and two intrepid men to absorb six days of dense scientific material at a rate of ten hours per day multiplied by three to six cups of coffee – how soon will breast cancer be eradicated?

Answer: January 1, 2020

The National Breast Cancer Coalition means to meet that deadline, aided by more informed, effective advocates by way of Project LEAD. Which is why I  applied for it.

I’m a 60-year old, 20-year survivor of breast cancer, whose mother died of the disease at 60. And I have a 22-year old daughter. You do the math.

On that Sunday, I joined a group of almost entirely breast cancer survivors of varying years away from high school math and science. I don’t like to put a label so inciting or damning as “math/science averse” on women, particularly as the lecturing faculty of Project LEAD® included so accomplished a brain trust of professional women in the sciences that the group literally shaved 10 percent off the gender disparity.

Now I’m not forgetting the coterie of female attendees either in the sciences, or riddled with an aptitude for them. (The men were enigmatic about their command of the field.) But amongst the rest of us, even though accomplished in careers and advocacy, I heard of and witnessed enough unease to know I was not the only suffragette wrestling with the fight or flight response upon mention of the word “denominator.”

But while fear of math/science is right up there with public speaking, heights and aging, women who have faced breast cancer can face any fact, digest any concept, glean any truth, reject any falsehood, bust any myth, examine any alternative, question any logic, follow any trail, prevail over any statistic.

The day before Project LEAD, I didn’t know my ass from an allele. I couldn’t make genetic metaphors. I had no understanding, at the molecular level, of my own diagnosis. I’d previously questioned where research was headed, but didn’t have even an elementary handle on how and why it was headed where it was headed. I thought that the concept of confounding was reserved for my mental state during the discussion of acetylation. The day before Project LEAD, my focus was on how many shoes to bring and how constipated I’d be sitting in a learning center for six days and sharing a bathroom with a roommate.

Answer: Very

So where is my focus now, now that I and 55 others have taken a bite from Project LEAD’s apple, now that the train has left the station?

January 1, 2020. There’s no time to waste. But then, women and men who’ve faced their own mortality have a high regard for deadlines.

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6 Responses to Math Problem

  1. Marie Borner says:

    I couldn’t have said it better. Project lead was amazing and not it’s time to get to work.
    I find myself wanting to study the material to commit it to my 55 year old brain so that it will come naturaly to me. Great

  2. Jody Schoger says:

    Thanks so much for this, Lissa. It was fabulous to meet and study with you at ProjectLead.

    Now that we’ve done the math? There’s no place to go but forward with strength, intelligence, and determination. The path is clear. We can do this.


  3. Lissa,

    It sounds like you soaked up lots of info! Thanks for being there. And now since the train has left the station I say, “full steam ahead!”

  4. Logan says:

    You inspire me with your accomplishments, your humor, your writing, and now your understanding of genetics. I am so proud of all you have done and all you will do. And, as always, the coffee you made this morning was excellent.

  5. Marvin and Carolyn Levin says:

    Thank you for forwarding your article and beautiful picture.
    Was great to read your thoughts about Project LEAD!!!!!
    We love you!!!!!!!!!
    Dad and Carolyn

  6. This is a wonderful article, Lissa. Very funny. Look forward to advocating with you in California!
    I agree with Jody: We.Can.Do.This.
    Best wishes,