Breast Cancer Awareness Month has only just begun, but JDC’s Women’s Health Empowerment Program is already in high gear. As I make my way back from the 5th Annual Race for the Cure that took place in Sarajevo last weekend, my heart swells with pride, thinking of how far we’ve come since the program’s inception.
I can remember when JDC first started this program back in 2004, together with our partner, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and the words “breast cancer” went unmentioned in this part of the world. Women died of “a cancer” that was diagnosed too late to be treated by the few resources available in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
This weekend over 5,000 people—Croats and Serbs, Muslims and Jews—traveled from 29 cities to participate in this very public event. Where once survivors were reluctant to be identified, 500 women now proudly sported pink Race t-shirts and took center stage for a photo, raising the disease’s visibility—and the possibility of survival—to an unprecedented level.
Mileva from Bihac was one of them. She’s been fighting breast cancer for over three years—the three longest years of her life. The past year has been especially challenging, with chemotherapy every third week. She had her latest round of treatment just 4 days before the Race. But on the big day she and the 50 people that she had registered left their homes at 6 am and traveled over 5 hours to get to Sarajevo, where her spirits were lifted immeasurably.
Melina from Mostar stood with her. Only 17, she lost her mom six months ago to the disease. She came with a group of friends and wore a beautiful pink shirt she prepared in her mom's memory. It was her way of honoring her mom's battle, and showing that it affects everybody—not just women, but also husbands, children, siblings, and friends. It was empowering for her to be with so many survivors, who gave her much love and support, and she renewed her promise to educate young people on the importance of early detection.
The national media has taken notice: Back in 2008, we struggled to get even one media partner on board. This year we had 16 official partners, plus billboards throughout the city promoting the Race, TV ads, and many interviews in every possible media outlet.
Breaking the silence and raising public awareness of the issue to a national level is a testament to the success of this program. As for the money we raised, all Race proceeds will provide post surgery health kits to every newly diagnosed woman in Bosnia and finance free mammogram checkups for uninsured women who cannot afford them. No woman will be left alone.
You can measure the success of the Race by various statistics, but in truth, the profound impact of this event seems beyond measure when I close my eyes and picture the sea of people in pink shirts flooding the streets of Sarajevo.
Our fight continues, and we encourage you to mark your calendars: Join us on October 5th, 2013 for the Sixth Race for the Cure in Bosnia and Herzegovina!
Itai Shamir, JDC-International Development Program Senior Program Manager, oversees the Women’s Health Empowerment Program, which is fighting breast cancer in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary, and Russia.
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