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Champions of Change: Leaders in the Fight Against Breast Cancer

Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century. 

To kick off Breast Cancer Awareness Month, last week leaders in the fight to end breast cancer participated in a roundtable discussion at the White House. The leaders included activists, scientists and health care providers who are making a difference in this fight every day. The discussion was led by Chief of Staff to the First Lady and Executive Director of the Council on Women and Girls, Tina Tchen, and it focused on the progress and challenges in the fight to end this devastating disease.

The fight against breast cancer is a personal issue for me. I learned the importance of this issue from my late mother Pat Barr, who first brought me along organizing with her when I was 10 years old. Back in the early 90’s, I trekked all over my little town of Bennington, VT collecting petitions for the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s 300 Million More campaign supporting more breast cancer research funding.

My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 4 and my younger sister was just 9 months old. Her breast cancer first metastasized when I was 6 and when I was 13, it spread to the lining of her lung. From that point on, she had regular recurrences in her bones, brain, eye, again in her lung, and finally in her liver. She passed away from liver failure when I was 20. My grandmother, who was one of the women who helped play the role of mother for me and my sister when my mom was too sick to do so, also died this past August of metastatic breast cancer. 

The White House Champions of Change roundtable was important because my story is not unique. All of us in that room had similar stories. You can read more about the Champions of Change who participated in the conversation here.

In 1991, 119 women died a day of breast cancer, today it is about the same, 110 women die daily of the disease. And this year alone over 230,000 women will be diagnosed with the disease.  We gathered at the White House because we know we can do better. Together with hard work, continued education and persistence, we can end this disease for the millions of families who are affected by it every day and the millions more who can be protected from it once we end it.

Although there is still a lot of work to do, I am proud to be a part of an Administration that is taking action to provide quality health care for all Americans. The Affordable Care Act allows millions of women the ability to get a mammogram without paying an extra penny out of their own pocket. Women can also get a well-woman visit to help them stay healthy. This kind of health care can help millions of women nationwide get the care they need.

Watch video of the full event:

Shira Sternberg is a Special Assistant to the Associate Administrator of External Affairs and Environmental Education at the Environmental Protection Agency.