By Michele Rakoff
So often we are told to be patient in our quest to find the answers to what causes breast cancer and how to prevent it. But we have no more time nor interest in being patient because more than 290,000 women and men are diagnosed each year with breast cancer in the United States, 40,000 die and many more are living with metastatic disease.
I have been a National Breast Cancer Coalition member for more than 20 years and have witnessed our many accomplishments to achieve our mission of ending breast cancer. With that said, it is 20 years later and we still do not know how to end breast cancer. My patience was running out. So when I learned that the National Breast Cancer Coalition was launching Breast Cancer Deadline 2020®, I knew we were taking the right action. I was energized to learn that I would be an advocate member of the Artemis Project®. What I came to realize was that this is a novel and intense collaboration involving scientists and advocates looking for a vaccine for primary and metastatic breast cancer. The first annual meeting was one of asking whether this was possible and if the teams could work together. Much work was done between the first and second meetings, and scientists and advocates were talking.
At the second meeting sparks started to fly as scientists moved outside of their institutional silos offering their expertise and calling on each other to add to the wealth of knowledge. Advocates asked hard questions and scientists were actively engaged in seeking answers. This active collaboration continued throughout meals, during walks and into the evenings with scientists and advocates involved in discussion. Also included were thought leaders and representatives from industry, business and health care. All of the Artemis advocates are Project LEAD® graduates who continue to collaborate with scientists on research trials, who sit on scientific panels and who interact with breast cancer patients. The big challenge is that we are talking about immunology, which is a different language and a different way of approaching breast cancer research. But all want to be a part of that challenge.
Flying home from the meeting, I felt that many issues were addressed and that a clearer direction was formed. However, the most encouraging thoughts were that scientists and advocates were interested in working together to deliver their piece of the puzzle, truly overriding any individual interest. There was an understanding that we could achieve our goal by working together.
Collaborations continue and a recent webinar was held to update members on project progress and to give advocates the opportunity to ask questions and move forward.
The group will meet in March 2013 to again move the Artemis Project® forward as part of Breast Cancer Deadline 2020®. Visit www.BreastCancerDeadline2020.org to follow and learn more about the Artemis Project®.