by Martha Kaley, BSPh, MEd
Each year, 43,000 women die of breast cancer. Common wisdom dictates that the best chance of surviving breast cancer is early detection. The current state of so-called "early detection" for breast cancer is a three-pronged approach (for women ages 40 and up): annual screening mammography, monthly breast self-exam, and annual manual exam by a physician. Under age 40, screening mammography is not recommended.
Taking this approach would seem an effective way of detecting breast cancer — if it weren't for all the problems that go along with these methods. First, we look at mammography. Many factors affect the efficiency of mammography as a screening tool, including:
• Variances in types and locations of cancers
• Variances in breast tissue density
• Human variances
• The relative timing of a woman's menstrual cycle to her film date.
That's a bit too many "variances" for me to swallow. In any case, mammography misses up to 15 percent of palpable tumors. We do not know how many nonmalleable tumors are missed by mammography.
Many women, myself included, still find their own breast cancers — accidentally. Breast self-exam (BSE) has an extremely low compliance. Even more disturbing, though, is the fact that generally both mammography and BSE rely upon the existence of a cancer tumor, a colony of millions of cancer cells!
Breast cancer is generally in the body five to eight years before it can even be imaged with our existing technology. In younger women, the rate of growth is faster; in older women, it is slower. In both cases, there is opportunity to find the cancer much earlier. All that is required is a new screening technique — something similar to a PSA screen for prostate cancer. After all, doctors cannot treat what they cannot find.
Despite the potential for improvement in both length and quality of life with successful early detection, only one breast cancer charity in the country has focused solely on earlier detection of breast cancer. Our commitment to earlier detection, combined with focus on seed grants, will be the catalyst for finding the disease earlier. This, in turn, will lead to earlier and less invasive treatments for breast cancer.
Who are we?
Friends ... You Can Count On®, a 501(c)3 organization, is the nation's only breast cancer charity devoted exclusively to the purpose of finding a new method of detecting breast cancer. This will be accomplished through the awarding of seed grants to qualified new research projects.
We're not a big machine — and we don't intend to be. Our staff is comprised of Tina Hawkins, who is our executive director, and myself. The rest of the people who work with us are volunteers, many of whom work at my husband's (Dr. James Kaley) orthodontic practice. Frankly, we want to put ourselves out of business, and we'll be very happy when that happens.
Never before in history have we had the opportunities we have now, with technology and research being where they are. Cancer research has been going on for the past 30 years and we've been making dots. Now we are starting to connect all these dots. We should all be so excited about where science is and what it holds for the future of breast cancer research. We have an opportunity to do something wonderful, to bring something to this life that will protect those we love from this horrible disease.
What do we do?
In a way, people could call us a conduit. We take the energy and donations of individuals and link them with the energy and capabilities of various centers for higher education and research facilities. How do we do this? We have several initiatives of our own, including our locally hosted annual Gathering of Friends dinner, which brings together the community to champion the cause of early detection and is, by far, our most successful fundraising opportunity of the year. Corporate donations are always wonderful gifts. A good example is 3M ESPE, which recently donated $10,000 to our cause through a product promotion it held in 2002. 3M ESPE got the idea to help out a breast cancer prevention organization by talking to dental hygienists on its Dental Hygiene Advisory Panel. Our organizations, both founded on research and development, were a natural fit and the rest is history.
Mostly, we rely on everyday people to get involved and take action. We are trying to assist people who want to help in this fight and we recently introduced a new program that anyone can participate in, called the Gathering of Friends Kit. Anyone can order these kits, which contain all you need to start up a gathering of your own to honor a friend who has had breast cancer.
Invitations are included, which each friend brings to the gathering with their individual donation. Upon this invitation, they are supposed to write something meaningful to the honored friend. A ceremony is conducted as each friend reads what they've written and gives the card to the honoree. A memento book is also included in the kit, for storage of the written sentiments. These small gatherings collect donations from the participants, and believe me, every dollar counts!
Is there really hope?
Unfortunately, we do not know what causes breast cancer, and there are no specifically identified things that we can do now to prevent it. However, we can do something to detect it earlier and that is our exclusive focus. The people are there to do the research. The science is in our hands. The funding comes from our hearts and the early detection method we so desperately need is in reach. Together we will take hold of it and bring it to the world.
For more information about Friends ... You Can Count On, contact them at (888) 792-3062, or visit their Web site at www.earlier.org.
Martha Kaley, BSPh, MEd, is founder of Friends ... You Can Count On. She currently is office manager for James Kaley, DDS, in Greensboro, N.C. She has been a practicing pharmacist; founder of Fitness Design; and served as program coordinator for Good Beginnings, Family Life Council of Greensboro. Kaley is a member of the Board of the Wake Forest University Baptist Comprehensive Cancer Center, a 2002 recipient of the Secret Women of Strength Award, The Business Journal's 2002 Women in Business Award, January 2002 North Carolina Hero Award, and recipient of the 2000 Jonquils Award from Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center.
"I had no family history of breast cancer. I took very good care of myself. Three months following my annual screening mammography (which came back 'clear'), I was wrestling with my chocolate lab, Sherlock. He scratched my chest. The next day, I felt something and immediately called my physician. This led to an exploratory surgery.
"As it happened, the mass I had been worried about was benign. However, additional exploration of my breast tissue led to the discovery of an undetected malignancy.
"Following treatment, I began to ask questions about the state of so-called 'early detection' for breast cancer and what I learned about it frightened and angered me."
— Martha Kaley, founder,
Friends ... You Can Count On
Products with a purpose. Proceeds from all Friends products support research for breast cancer research.
Group photo (above). Dr. Kaley and staff join the Friends team while accepting a generous donation from 3M ESPE. Front row: Tina Hawkins, executive director, Friends You Can Count On, Martha Kaley, founder, Friends You Can Count On, Jim Poteat, 3M ESPE representative, (second row) Doris Barnett, Susan Curry, Peggy Serpico, Kathy Secrist, Deana Patteson, Lisa Zimmerman, Liz Williamson, (back row) Dr. Jim Kaley, Nancy Watson and Stormie Aldredge.
Cookbook-- A $15 donation provides research funding and delicious recipes from friends, family, and area restaurants.
The kit above includes:
• A Gathering of Friends Ceremony to create a special memory for the event.
• A candle ... Set a festive atmosphere and be part of the ceremony.
• A Gathering of Friends Memento Book to be used with the Ceremony and to gather treasured mementos for life's journey.
• A flower pen, handmade by volunteers.
• A lovely Mylar balloon. Tie it to your mailbox or use it as a centerpiece.
• 10 invitations and envelopes to help you gather your friends.
• 20 cocktail napkins to set the theme.
• 10 fabric pink ribbon stickers. Place these on your lapel, a notebook or a mirror.
• 10 donation cards for your guests who choose to make donations to Friends ... You Can Count On.
• Cost is $25.