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RI Senators Join Bipartisan Fight Against Breast Cancer

A member of the Rhode Island State Ballet performs in the torch passing at Gloria Gemma Flames of Hope 2012. (Photo Tracey C. O'Neill)

A member of the Rhode Island State Ballet performs in the torch passing ceremony at Gloria Gemma Flames of Hope 2012. (Photo Tracey C. O’Neill)

On Tuesday, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed (D-RI) announced their co-sponsorship of bipartisan legislation aimed at eradicating breast cancer by 2020.

Sponsored by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), the Accelerating the End of Breast Cancer Act of 2015 brought support from eight legislators on both sides of the aisle in the battle against breast cancer, a disease that saw nearly 300,000 new case diagnosis last year.

Maureen DiPiero, Community Outreach Coordinator speaking for the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Foundation in an interview Wednesday was pleased the legislation was again being brought forward.

“Certainly we would love to see there be an end to Breast Cancer. This bill is really important because it will add dollars to research.”

Re-introduced, Capito’s bill seeks to end breast cancer through the creation of a public-private collaborative and commission tasked with identifying opportunities and ideas worthy of investment, bringing them to fruition with an outlook on breast cancer prevention, treatment and cessation of its metastasis.

“Many families in West Virginia and across America have been affected by breast cancer, and I am no exception. My mother-in-law, Ruth Eskew Capito, died tragically at age 51 after being diagnosed with breast cancer,” Capito said. “We must direct our limited research dollars to funding the most promising breast cancer research, and this bill does just that.  I am pleased to join members from both sides of the aisle as we work to end this heartbreaking disease.”

2020 around the corner

Anthony Gemma at Flames of Hope 2012, Providence, RI. (Photo Tracey C. O'Neill)

Anthony Gemma at Flames of Hope 2012, Providence, RI. (Photo Tracey C. O’Neill)

Just five years away, the target date for a cure is fast approaching.

“It (2020) is not that far away,” said DiPiero. “It will be a wonderful thing if it really does happen. I think it’s important that they are doing a broad reach, encouraging trans-disciplinary programs and also bringing in public partnerships as well. To work together, it’s good because all of the pieces will come together.”

“Some breast cancer survivors have a saying that ‘problems wouldn’t be called “hurdles” if there isn’t a way to overcome them,’” said Sr. Sen. Reed in a joint press release. “We’ve come so far in the fight against breast cancer: advancing research, raising awareness, and improving treatment options.  We still have a ways to go and this bill is designed to accelerate innovation, collaboration, and the eradication of this disease by 2020.”

Speaking to the competitive atmosphere of health research and development, DiPiero noted the importance of information sharing and the legislation’s positive collaborative intentions.

“Instead of having everyone working on different pieces and not sharing information and knowledge and findings, it’s very hard then to move it forward. If you’re taking all the parts of the wheel and putting it together, the car will get a lot farther than if you just put the axles on and the car isn’t going anywhere. It’s good.”

“I think it is a wonderful premise and encouraging,” she said. “It will definitely, hopefully speed up findings in research. Everyone who is developing new treatments or finding ways to end it, whether it’s through a vaccine that’s in the tunnel right now that’s being worked on.”

“Each of those steps, instead of working on them individually, but bringing them together to see how they can work as a whole, can only advance and improve the development of treatments and hopefully a vaccine some day that can prevent breast cancer.”

Breast Cancer affects everyone

Lantern Ceremony, Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Foundation Flames of Hope 2012 (Photo Tracey C. O'Neill)

Lantern Ceremony, Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Foundation Flames of Hope 2012 (Photo Tracey C. O’Neill)

DiPiero also noted the importance of not only bi-partisan support, but in having men involved in the process.

“We call breast cancer a family disease. Every year when we do our annual calendar, we try to include a male survivor of breast cancer as a reminder in the course of the year. We also educate when we are in the community – we educate men as well as women about breast cancer,” she said.

“We know that its important for all to know, men as well as women, also that men are affected by it, when someone they love is diagnosed.”

“Every year, tens of thousands of American women die from breast cancer,” Whitehouse said in the release. “This legislation will help drive the development of better treatments for breast cancer, and sets the ambitious goal of ending breast cancer by the end of the decade.  And I appreciate the opportunity to work with Judiciary Chairman Grassley to rally support from our colleagues and get this enacted into law.”

According to the release and information obtained from the National Cancer Institute, an estimated 232,670 cases of breast cancer were diagnosed and an estimated 40,000 deaths from the disease occurred in 2014. An estimated 2,899,726 women were living with breast cancer in the United States in 2011.

“We see all aspects of it. We have families coming in who are devastated by just getting the news,” said DiPiero. “Many times the phone will ring and a person on the other end is crying either because they were just diagnosed that day and they don’t know what to do.”

“There are something like 47 decisions a person diagnosed with breast cancer has to make before they even start their treatment. Let’s not mention all of the testing and waiting for that biopsy, to find out what type of cancer, what stage of cancer. We see that devastation and we also see the emotional wear and tear on families,” she said.

“There are many times that family members have a harder time with it than the patient – almost as if the patient has a job to do. He or she has to get themselves to the doctor’s and the treatments. They’re busy preparing for the treatments and getting life in order. It’s a job on top of the emotional-psychological damage that’s there,” DiPiero said of the family impact.

“Family members are trying to provide support, trying to help but there’s also the ‘I don’t want him to worry about me. I don’t want her to know that I’m worried about her.’ There’s a whole other piece of it.”

Hope for a Cure

The Gloria Gemma Foundation focuses on patient and family advocacy, one on one servicing and community outreach. The foundation is not actively involved in legislative affairs.

“For me this is the first step,” said DiPiero of the pending legislation. “If we can end it or find a vaccine, that would be a wonderful thing. And until then, these other parts need to be tended to and we’re hoping to contribute to that part of it – the families.”

According to the release and information obtained from the National Cancer Institute, “an estimated 232,670 cases of breast cancer were diagnosed and an estimated 40,000 deaths from the disease occurred in 2014. An estimated 2,899,726 women were living with breast cancer in the United States in 2011.”

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