By ALESHA CADET
Tribune Features Reporter
THE PINKEST month of the year has rolled around and one local organisation is making a concerted effort to raise awareness about breast cancer.
For the month of October, the Bahamas Breast Cancer Initiative Foundation (BBCIF) will host a number of events at Marios Bowling and Entertainment Palace.
The initiative branded “Painting the Lanes Pink” starts October 14. Over forty exhibitors will gather to “Seeing that we BBCIF are just getting back in the swing of everything, this is our first relaunch event. We are just going to enjoy life, celebrate love and hope and keep moving by empowering women to live,” said Melissa Major, newly appointed executive director.
Ms Major is also the founder of Freedom Survivors, a young adult community for persons affected by cancer. She serves on the Education and Operations Committees of the Cancer Society of the Bahamas.
The BBCIF is a public-private partnership that was formed in Nassau in April 2008. The mission of the foundation is to facilitate the collaboration of multiple partners to improve breast cancer care in the Bahamas, and provide the women of the Bahamas with a comprehensive breast cancer programme to include education, early detection and care.
The foundation is funded through grants and private donations in both the Bahamas and the United States. Partners of the BBCIF include: the Ministry of Health and the Public Hospitals Authority, a diverse group of Bahamian oncologists, surgeons and radiologists, the Ride for Hope, Susan G Komen for the Cure, Sunshine Insurance/Marathon Bahamas, the Cancer Society of the Bahamas, Sister Sister Support Group, Freedom Survivors Young Adult Support Group, and the U S Embassy.
The current BBCIF research programme involves offering genetic testing and counselling to relatives of individuals who were identified to carry the BRCA gene in the initial 2008 study, and to determine the risk of hereditary breast cancer in the Bahamian population.
Ms Major said as the new executive director, there are several things she wants to see done. One of the first, Ms Major said, is to see the research that is currently being done with the genetic testing expanded to all women of the Bahamas.
“Also, we are going to put in place more innovative programmes that deal with education. That deal with breast care and patient navigation. We have a lot of programmes and where are just getting started, so we want to put these programmes in place along with continuing the research and possibly developing more research,” said Ms Major.
Speaking about the foundations notoriety over the years, Ms Major said:
“The BBCIF was originally started in 2008, and there was an initial research study done that involved Dr Judith Hurley from the University of Miami, as well as local doctors. The initial research that was done involved
214 patients that were diagnosed with breast cancer. They were all tested for the BRCA1 mutation gene that would increase your risk of breast cancer.”
She said the research was done and it was noted that there is a very high prevalence of breast cancer in the Bahamas. “That is the one thing that the Bahamas Breast Cancer Initiative is known for, said Ms Major.
“I want to get more people very interested in what we are doing with the research and show them and educate them on how the genetic testing thing can be so valuable to the Bahamas.
It can be valuable in terms of testing whether a person is positive or negative for the BRCA1 mutation. So that is my biggest plan now going forward. We were here from 2008 but it was kind of quiet, and now were are back. So I’m just working on letting the Bahamas know that we are back. We have relaunched and we are continuing with the second half of the research,” said Ms Major.
She said phase one helped to establish that there is a problem. Phase two is aimed at research to solve the problem.
“The first thing people need to know is that breast cancer is a disease where you don’t have to die, you can live. When I say that I mean if we find the cancer in the early stages, your survival rate of getting treatment is much higher. With knowing whether your positive or negative for the BRCA gene, it will empower you more because of course if you are negative and your age range is not of high risk, then you don’t have anything to worry about. If you are positive then you know that these are the steps that I have to take and you put those steps into place,” said Ms Major.