Last August Breast Cancer Action–the organization well known for phrases such as “pinkwashing” and “Think Before You Pink”– announced the retirement of executive director Barbara Brenner following 15 years of service and leadership. I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, I wonder who they’ll find to fill Barbara’s shoes?” After all, those are some pretty big shoes.
During Brenner’s tenure, the organization advanced evidence-based policy related to screening mammography, challenged the patenting of the breast cancer genes BRCA1 & BRCA2, successfully urged the FDA to require pharmaceutical giant Genentech to demonstrate unequivocally the life-saving effects of the drug Avastin, persuaded General Mills to stop using rBGH (i.e., the growth hormone used to stimulate milk production in cows that was found to be linked to cancer) in yogurt the company sold to fundraise for breast cancer programs, and persistently educated consumers and the media about pink cause marketing. I outlined BCA’s strategies and successes in Pink Ribbon Blues, so you might imagine that I have a particular interest in seeing their work move forward.
I’m thrilled to hear that, after an exhaustive professional search, Karuna Jaggar has become BCA’s new executive director. Jaggar has been a patient advocate for ten years and has fifteen years of experience working in non-profit leadership advocating for women’s social and economic empowerment and specifically working to reverse inequities among low-income women and women of color. In a letter to the BCA membership, Jaggar states her commitment to the organization’s goals:
Under my leadership, BCA will remain uncompromising on issues of health, social and environmental justice:
- We will continue to fearlessly and relentlessly tell the truth about breast cancer.
- We will continue to unapologetically place the health rights of all women front and center of this epidemic: patients before profits.
- We will focus attention on the larger system-wide factors responsible for the continuation of this epidemic. Rather than putting the burden of cancer prevention on individual lifestyle “choices,” we will insist on health policy that protects us all.
- We will work to change the conversation by demanding an end to involuntary exposures to toxins in every day products that are linked to breast cancer.
Understanding breast cancer through a health equity lens means demanding greater corporate accountability and better treatment options; it means paying keener attention to the social inequities that cause differences in breast cancer incidence and outcomes; securing changes at the policy level to reverse involuntary exposure to carcinogens; and shifting the balance of power at the FDA away from pharmaceutical companies towards patient interests.
The work BCA has done in the past two decades to shape policy and inform the public about the unintended consequences of pink culture has helped to create a strong foundation for conscientious action on the part of individuals and collectivities. As the new leader of BCA, Jaggar is committed to building on this foundation by creating coalitions, strengthening organizational capacity, and invigorating the voices of those working for change. Jaggar concludes her statement of introduction with, “We have much work to do, and we are the people who will move this forward.”
Indeed, we are the people who will move this forward. Thoughtfully. Thoroughly. Unflinchingly. BCA’s model of advocacy represents a strong and continued focus on the systemic issues that contribute to the breast cancer epidemic while stalling movement toward the eradication of the disease. It is a much needed effort in the current culture of pink parties, boobie-thons, awareness rhetoric, and industry strong-holds. I couldn’t be happier that Karuna Jaggar is stepping into the ACTION!