The Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition and the National Breast Cancer Coalition emerged 20 years ago with a mission to eradicate breast cancer. Back in those early days of DBCC, says founding board member Maureen Lauterbach, the primary focus was on political advocacy to make the disease a funding and research priority.
Advocacy remains a vital mission, but the organization has taken on many additional roles, including education, outreach and support.
“DBCC has come a long way from its infancy in 1991, and I am so proud of its growth,” Lauterbach says. “We started with nothing, and now the organization is well-known and well-regarded and serving the community throughout the state.” Begun as a grassroots, all-volunteer organization, DBCC now has 19 part-time and full-time staff.
Within a year of its founding, DBCC began working to educate nursing students about breast cancer and mammography. That mission continues to this day, but with a greatly expanded reach. DBCC’s Annual Breast Cancer Update, begun in 1997, now draws 400 attendees annually. This free forum brings the most up-to-date breast cancer information to health-care professionals, breast cancer survivors and the general public.
Among DBCC’s most important education initiatives has been spreading the word about the importance of breast cancer screening. The earlier breast cancer is found the more treatable it is and the higher a woman’s chance of survival. The increase in screening—mammograms, clinical breast exams and breast self-exams—is one of the primary advances in breast cancer care over the past 20 years, says Dr. Diana Dickson-Witmer, associate medical director of the Breast Center at Christiana Care’s Helen F. Graham Cancer Center.
“I always ask my family and friends, ‘Did you get your mammogram this year?’” says DBCC volunteer Claire Zaragoza, a 30-year survivor. “Thirty years ago, people didn’t talk about breast cancer at all.” Awareness and attitude have definitely changed, Lauterbach agrees, and DBCC deserves some of the credit.
In 2004, DBCC opened a Dover office to provide expanded programs in Kent County. In 2006, it opened its Sussex County office in Lewes and the DBCC headquarters moved to West 11th and Orange Streets in Wilmington. That move has given the organization added visibility and increased the number of people who seek out DBCC’s services.
Over the years, DBCC has developed a range of education and support programs to help breast cancer survivors throughout their breast cancer journey, from newly diagnosed to post-treatment. Many of these programs rely on volunteers who are breast cancer survivors.
“Our growth over the past two decades has allowed us to be out in the community more, raising awareness and offering more programs for breast cancer survivors,” says DBCC Executive Director Victoria Cooke. “Significant progress has been made, but breast cancer continues to be an epidemic. The survival rate is better, but we are still losing women and men every day. We still have much more to do.”