The Story of the Breast Cancer Alliance: 13 Years in the Breast Cancer Battle

The Breast Cancer Alliance (BCA) began around a kitchen table in 1996 and as of today, it has given more than $12 Million to breast cancer, supporting both innovative research and outreach. It has an annual benefit, a luncheon and fashion show, which is always a sell-out.

The Breast Cancer Alliance, a volunteer organization with two paid staff members (an Executive Director and an Administrative Assistant), has awarded $9.38 million to a variety of cutting edge research grants and one-year post-graduate breast surgery fellowships at 23 of the nation’s leading research institutions.  It has also given $3.02 million to outreach programs and education initiatives in nine communities in Connecticut and New York.  Over 85 percent of its education and outreach dollars are specifically targeted to underserved and underinsured women.  Each year, the Alliance also funds:

  • A website with information about the organization, events, grant application process and resources.
  • A quarterly newsletter that reaches audiences across the U.S. (to receive the newsletter call the office at 203-861-0014 or email [email protected])

When Greenwich resident Mary Waterman completed her treatment for breast cancer, she and five friends determined that they would start a local organization to raise funds for diagnosis, treatment, prevention and – one day – a cure for breast cancer.  The group approached Neiman Marcus in White Plains and asked them to sponsor a luncheon and fashion show for the newly formed Breast Cancer Alliance.

That first BCA benefit was an instant success, raising over $90,000 and attracting more than 600 guests.  Mary Waterman died soon after that day, at the age of 53, but there was no stopping her vision.  Her friends saw to it that Mary’s organization grew and prospered.  Today, as the Breast Cancer Alliance celebrates its 14th year, it has grown to become the fourth largest private non-corporate breast cancer organization in the United States.

The mission of the Breast Cancer Alliance is: To fund innovative breast cancer research and to promote breast health through education and outreach. The BCA is committed to remaining local and community-based. It focuses on breast cancer via the following important initiatives:

Funding Cutting Edge Research

The Breast Cancer Alliance provides seed money to fund innovative breast cancer research with emphasis on programs that have not yet qualified for federal grants.  To secure federal funding, a researcher must prove a theory works; the Breast Cancer Alliance creates the critical bridge between novel research and the opportunity to generate preliminary results.

Effecting Results Through a Rigorous Grant Process

The BCA Board reviews regular progress reports and presentations from grantees in order to gauge the effectiveness of grant funding.  The Grants Committee combines the energy and talent of BCA volunteers with the expertise of some of the country’s leading medical experts on breast cancer. The Grants Committee meets and maintains an ongoing synergistic relationship with all grantees and their institutions.  Noteworthy successes include the development of sentinel node biopsy,  the Dr. MARVEL machine and a DNA sequencer.

Championing Young Doctors and Scientists – The Multiplier Effect

The Alliance encourages careers in breast cancer research and medicine.  The BCA awards two-year Young Investigator Grants to doctors and scientists in the early stages of their careers as well as Breast Surgery Fellowships to provide specialized post graduate training in breast surgery.  Ultimately, recipients share their knowledge and training with the next generation, producing a multiplier effect.

Impacting Community Awareness and Prevention

BCA commitment to Education and Outreach is evident not only in Greenwich and Stamford but also throughout parts of Connecticut and Westchester County.  Each year, the Alliance allocates twenty-five percent of its funding to help women, especially the uninsured and underserved, in the fight against breast cancer.

Mentoring Youth – Our Future

The Alliance sponsors a Junior Committee, which is actively dedicated to its mission.  The Juniors are helping underserved populations, educating their peers and learning about philanthropy at a young age.

The Alliance recognizes that breast cancer affects not just individuals, but their families, friends and communities as well.  That is one reason why the BCA strives to include a wide variety of people in its activities: women, men, children, teenagers, and health care professionals.  In addition to the Annual Benefit Luncheon and Fashion Show, now generously sponsored by Mitchells of Westport/Richards of Greenwich, the group participates in several fun/educational events throughout the year.  Here is a sampling of events from 2009:

  • Breast Cancer: Your Lifestyle, Your Genes, and Hope for the Future – an educational symposium sponsored by the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy, the Breast Cancer Alliance, Greenwich Hospital and the Greenwich Library.
  • Hands Across the Avenue – the fourth annual one-mile walk through downtown Greenwich to fund advances in research and promote breast health.
  • Junior Fashion Show – the fifth annual fashion show held by the Breast Cancer Alliance Junior Committee at Richards of Greenwich to benefit breast cancer outreach services for underserved women at the Hospital of St. Raphael in New Haven.
  • McArdle’s Sales Days – This Greenwich florist and Garden Center celebrated its tenth annual Sales Days event to benefit the Breast Cancer Alliance.  McArdle’s generously donated 15 percent of proceeds to the Breast Cancer Alliance on this spring weekend.
  • Flag-Raising – The Alliance will raise the Breast Cancer Alliance flag at Greenwich Town Hall to kick off Breast Cancer Awareness month, accompanied by remarks on the latest innovations in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment from Dr. Susan Boolbol, Chief of Breast Surgery at Beth Israel Medical Center.
  • Shopping Night at Richards – a private holiday shopping evening featuring selections from leading designers.  A percentage of purchases will be donated to the Breast Cancer Alliance.
  • Holiday Boutique – a two-day Holiday shopping opportunity with unique vendors held at the Greenwich Country Club during which 15% of all sales benefit the Breast Cancer Alliance.  The 2009 Boutique will be December 1st. and 2nd.
  • CancerCare Teleconference – the Alliance sponsors an opportunity to hear the results of the annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in a free interactive teleconference format led by distinguished breast cancer experts.

These events benefit breast cancer survivors and their families and offer a fun way for the community to come together to support a cause that is close to all of our hearts.  In addition to events, the Alliance is supported by an annual appeal effort, corporate initiative and several  ‘point of sale’ promotions.  We believe Mary Waterman would have been proud of the work her friends and followers have done to make the Breast Cancer Alliance a thriving organization that makes vital contributions to the lives of breast cancer patients everywhere.

The Breast Cancer Alliance is an ongoing testament to the power of committed volunteers.  A Sharp Eye hopes that there are similar organizations across the US and around the world.  If you know of a similar group, tell us.  We’ll post a list and hope to inspire more volunteers and donors.  Maybe some of you will begin another BCA.

Let ASE know about other opportunities for us all to contribute to the fight against Breast Cancer.

The Breast Cancer Alliance