By Lissa Levin
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.
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.