The local nonprofit continues its tireless efforts towards breast cancer advocacy and awareness.
Throughout October, buildings along the White Horse Pike in downtown Berlin will be bedecked in pink ribbons.
But these ribbons unravel well past the pike, threading back two decades to Capitol Hill where Loretta Mikulski once lobbied for underinsured and uninsured women to receive breast cancer treatments — the catalyst of the South Jersey Breast Cancer Coalition.
The nonprofit’s 2017 Get Your Pink On event will echo its 20 years of medical and political advocacies.
“Everybody knows what a pink ribbon stands for. They know it’s breast cancer awareness, so they think, ‘We got this. We’re good,’” said Mikulski, the co-founder of the coalition who has survived the disease herself for 22 years. “But, we still don’t know what causes it, we don’t know how to cure it. There’s lots of things they don’t know, and we’re striving to get that information.”
A component of that information is shedding light to the disease’s local impact, as New Jersey ranks eighth in the nation for new cases of breast cancer and third in the nation for deaths from breast cancer as of 2010, according to the South Jersey Breast Cancer Coalition.
Aside from the Historic Berlin Hotel, which was decorated every October for the past five years, this year’s Get Your Pink On will feature the inaugural adorning of both Berlin municipal buildings and their neighboring gazebos, accumulating to nearly 90 ribbons throughout the borough and township.
The coalition aims to assign a local resident inflicted by breast cancer, including survivors and those who succumbed to the disease, to each ribbon. On a piece of paper, the ribbon will reveal the first name and last initials of those being represented, appropriately labeled “In honor of” or “In memory of.”
“Breast cancer has come a long way, and sometimes, I think it gets watered down — the pink gets watered down,” Mikulski said. “I want them (people walking and driving past the ribbons) to think about the women who have died from this disease, because not everybody makes it.”
After Mikulski’s best friend, Carolyn J. Ochs, lost her battle to breast cancer in 2005, the coalition established its predominant purpose of a client assistance fund, which provides assets to New Jerseyans going through treatment for bills, including rent, mortgage and utilities. As of this month, the coalition has awarded more than $112,000 since the fund’s inception.
Along with regional fundraising, the coalition has lobbied for state and federal laws regarding breast cancer awareness, especially geared toward patients not only struggling with medical burdens but financial ones as well.
In 1997, Mikulski and a fellow survivor, Elyse Suster, created the coalition after convening at Capitol Hill and fighting for the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, which provides low-income, uninsured and underserved women access to timely breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.
Mikulski and Suster particularly fought for treatment access for underprivileged patients. And, in 2000, Congress passed the Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act, allowing states to offer women who are diagnosed with cancer in the NBCCEDP access to treatment through Medicaid, according according to the CDC.
“That rally was the impetus of this organization,” Mikulski, who later served as the lead field coordinator for the National Breast Cancer Coalition from 2000 to 2010, said.
It also led to the New Jersey CEED program, which gives hundreds of thousands of screenings for breast, cervical, colorectal and prostate cancers, allowing the detection of 1,308 diagnosed cases of cancer from 2007 to 2016.
Since then, the coalition successfully lobbied for similar bills, such as New Jersey’s drive-through mastectomy law, which established that women be entitled to a two-night stay at hospitals after surgeries, regardless of their insurance status, according to Penn Medicine.
Although Mikulski — who ended her nearly two decades of chemotherapy a couple of years ago after the treatments caused numbness in her leg — lives with inactive metastasis cancer, she does not quit her battle, as well as the battle for others.
Aside from organizing events such as Get Your Pink On, she is a consumer advocate in clinical trials for metastatic breast cancer at the University of Penn and works with the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
“I’ve never let my disease stop me,” Mikulski said.
Volunteers are needed for decorating the Berlin borough and township municipal buildings on Sunday, Oct 1. The borough’s decorating will start at 11 a.m. The township’s will start at 1 p.m.
Those interested in dedicating a ribbon can call (856)-768–9028. Please provide a first name and last initial, as well as an “in honor of” or “in memory of” indication.