Noe Valley Voice April 2003

You Too Can Become a Breast Cancer Activist

By Laura McHale Holland

"A woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every 21/2 minutes in the United States. That's unacceptable, and we're working to change it," says single-breasted dynamo Barbara Brenner.

A 23rd Street resident for the past 25 years, Brenner is executive director of Breast Cancer Action (BCA), a San Francisco-based national organization of activists known as the "bad girls of breast cancer." "We want answers and we want them yesterday. We're going to too many funerals," says a feisty Brenner.

Frightening as the cancer statistics are, this group of 11,000 members is actually very hopeful. "We believe that everybody who cares can do something meaningful about the breast cancer problem. We have a magnet that says, 'Do something besides worry,'" says Brenner.

She stresses that activism can take many forms. "It's not about doing it fulltime. It's not even about doing it a little bit every day. People can learn what they need to know, and individuals can influence policy in many different ways."

To help people get involved, BCA is holding its sixth annual Town Meeting, on April 26 from noon to 5 p.m. at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center, 388 Ninth Street, in Oakland. This year's theme is "Coming Together: Moving from Illness to Activism." Keynote speakers will include KTVU-Channel 2 reporter Faith Fancher, who is being treated for breast cancer that has spread to her liver, and women's health policy analyst Holly Mitchell. Emceed by KPIX anchor Barbara Rodgers, the day will also include music by Adrienne Torf and workshops on breast cancer activism.

The event is free, but donations are encouraged.

"Breast Cancer Action is the only national breast cancer organization that refuses to accept contributions from pharmaceutical companies or other companies known or suspected to profit from breast cancer, including corporate polluters," Brenner notes.

Brenner was diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer in 1993, when she was a 41-year-old lawyer. A recurrence of the disease led to a mastectomy in 1996. Realizing that her time might be limited, she stepped up her activities in Breast Cancer Action to try to make an impact on women's health (she became BCA's executive director in 1995).

"Breast cancer has transformed me in terms of the work I do," she says. "I care very deeply about getting to the end of this. It's not about me. In a large degree, what's going to happen to me is out of my hands. But we have a generation of young people coming up who do not need to deal with what the baby-boomer generation is now dealing with in terms of breast cancer."

Brenner says you do not have to have breast cancer, or know anyone who has it, to come to the Town Meeting (call 510-532-7700 or go to The same is true for BCA, which you can reach by calling 415-243-9301 or writing Breast Cancer Action, 55 New Montgomery Street, Suite 323, San Francisco, CA 94105.

The group provides bimonthly task-force meetings, e-mail alerts, updates on the suspected causes of cancer, and access to an ever-widening circle of activists.

"I had great care and wonderful support throughout my illness," says Brenner. "If everybody in the world could get that, the world would be a much better place." h