This was the first conference I had attended, one of 900+ delegates/presenters–doctors hoping to enlist delegates for clinical trials, women bearing witness to devastating encounters with the health care juggernaut, and some wishing to share poems, films or paintings born of their  encounters with breast cancer. Others expressed varying degrees of impatience with all of this; their intention was to use the momentum of the conference to help stop breast cancer from happening in the first place.

Many in this latter group had attended earlier conferences, and were prepared to present a resolution urging governments to ban proven and suspected carcinogens. Judy Brady, of the Toxic Links Coalition in San Francisco, Helen Lynn, of The Women’s Environmental Network in the U.K., Ida Kurth, a scientist from Germany, Gerry Rogers, a Canadian filmmaker AND OTHERS  worked hard to keep this focus throughout the conference. The obstacles were many,  not the least of which was the diversity of issues and topics scheduled during the four working days of the conference – 30+ concurrent sessions on subjects as diverse as new directions in research, the efficacy of mammography, pharmaceutical funding of advocacy groups, banning carcinogens in the home,  and  “taking the next step to joy and celebration.” Each vied for our attention. Even when a session sounded interesting, it often consisted of three speakers with sometimes tenuous connection to the stated topic, many of whom rushed through their allotted 15 minutes with little regard for the slides intended to enhance their words

On the other hand, the plenary sessions, open forums, and breakfast roundtables were both accessible and interesting. Priority was also given to a four-hour exchange between an international panel of health policymakers and breast cancer advocates who testified to the glaring inequalities in access to treatment in different parts of the world. Fascinating!  

Given the diverse constituencies present, it was a challenge for the conference planners and the ad hoc leaders to strike a unifying chord. Did they succeed?  At times and thanks to impassioned speakers, yes. Six challenges raised in the various plenary sessions and open forums come to mind: Di Cooper from Capetown, South Africa, urged the delegates to “... lobby so that chemical companies do not dump their toxins on the Third World!”;  Thaïs Corral from Brazil asked us to join together to not only stop tobacco companies from targeting developing nations but to end tobacco production altogether; Augustine Quashigah from Ghana called on us to maintain the momentum by facilitating regional forums between conferences; a representative of Willow (the Ontario ) asked for help finding a foundation to fund grass roots organizations that refuse to take pharma dollars; Dr. Sally Godsell from rural B.C. pleaded for one-stop diagnostic and treatment centres, where the staff–from receptionists to surgeons—are there by choice; and Dr. Annie Sasco of the International Association for Research on Cancer (WHO) in LYON, France, WARNED that, “There is resistance in the scientific community to research on the environment. The research will happen only if women push, push, push for it.”  

As if to demonstrate that these challenges were not beyond us, many recounted gains made by aiming high and working together. OMIT THE FOLLOWING:  Di Cooper cited a Zulu saying expressing our connectedness: “muntu, muntu ngabuntu” which means “a person is a person because of others.”

Ultimately, the so-called Victoria Declaration–which calls on “governments of the world to comply with and implement the precautionary principle”–was presented by the activists. Despite their best efforts, however, this declaration was supported only by those “delegates attending a plenary session on Primary Prevention at the World Conference on Breast Cancer”. Part of the reason for this is that the president, Laurene Clark, was reluctant to support the statement, insisting that conference delegates had not been mandated to support resolutions by their sponsoring organizations. Despite her INITIAL reservations, the official and final news release from the conference included the salient points of the Victoria Declaration as well as urging governments to provide education, information and access to health care to all women.

The next World Conference will take place in 2005. I am told that the organizers are already looking into the possibility of holding six  regional workshops in the interim.  

Conference Miscellany:

*The idea of introducing women living with breast cancer to the sport of dragon boating originated in British Columbia with sports medicine guru, Dr. Don McKenzie of UBC. The resulting research disproved the widely accepted belief that upper body exercise is harmful to women who have experienced breast surgery.

*Testimony from India, Moldova, Cameroon, Uganda, Ghana, Darussalam, Bangladesh, and Barbados indicated that breast cancer in women under 50 is on the rise in those countries.

*In Bangladesh there are only two linear accelerators for a population of 130,000,000, a fact which rules out radiation therapy for most women.

*In Uganda, there is one mammography machine for 11,000,000 people.

* Noting that women who work in the home have a higher percentage of cancer,
Carol K. Johnson suggested a range of products for safe cleaning. To make your own “Alice's WonderSpray”™ (from Clean House, Clean Planet  by Karen Logan), combine the following ingredients in a 32 oz. spray bottle: 1/4 cup white vinegar, 2 tsp. borax ,  hot water (almost fill bottle), and lastly  1/4 cup liquid dish soap such as Palmolive. Optional: for scent add 10 to 15 drops essential oil (lemon or lavender).

*Dr.  Gurmit Singh of the Hamilton Regional Cancer Centre, hopes to start a trial this fall in Ontario and across Canada testing the effects of tetracyclene on breast cancer metastases in the bone. Tetracyclene shows up in the bones within 8 hours of ingestion and inhibits (MMPs) matrix metalloproteinase.

*Dr. Katherine Wynne-Edwards of Queen’s University, is embarking on a study called “Daughters Without Breast Cancer” in which she will collect saliva samples of young women between the ages of 9 and 17 across Canada to measure estrogen levels at different ages.

*In the UK the Women’s Environmental Network has urged women to participate in identifying clusters of breast cancer incidence in their own regions to establish links between environmental pollution and the disease. The project, “Putting Cancer on the Map” is described at the web site:
*In San Francisco, the group Toxic Links Coalition hosts an annual “Cancer Industry Tour” during October in which they visit the corporate offices of some of the worst polluters. More information is available at