Breast cancer is the most common cancer worldwide, with approximately 1.7 million new cases diagnosed each year. It is a disease that does not discriminate based on racial and ethnic groups, experiences or age. With 58 percent of deaths from breast cancer occurring in developing countries, it is also a disease that crosses international lines. In fact, breast cancer is increasing rapidly in the developing world, where cases are often diagnosed in late stages and treatment options are severely limited.
Photo courtesy of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
Last week, we introduced you to our Innovating for a Cure series in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Today, we spotlight a pioneering medical oncologist and women’s health advocate with a powerful vision that knows no boundaries.
Dr. Julie Gralow is the director of Breast Medical Oncology at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, and a professor in the oncology division of the University of Washington School of Medicine. She has earned numerous awards for her research, chairing several committees, and participating in expert panels for breast cancer treatment and research as a member of the Southwest Oncology Group.
But Dr. Gralow is perhaps most truly defined not by the awards she earned within labs and clinics, but by her compassion for her patients and her tireless work to empower and educate women around the world on breast cancer detection and treatment.
Taking the Fight Global
Dr. Gralow has launched an international movement of dedicated experts and volunteers arming women with the resources they need to take control of their health. She recognizes that, for far too many women around the world, fear, or the simple access to knowledge, stands in the way of early detection, treatment and ultimately, a happy ending.
Fighting to change this reality and bring action and early detection strategies to all women, Dr. Gralow works with the Global Task Force for Expanded Access to Cancer Care and Control in Developing Countries and founded the Women’s Empowerment Cancer Advocacy Network (WE CAN).
Dr. Gralow’s WE CAN initiative is saving lives through breast cancer education, outreach and advocacy summits in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Africa where the need is great. In Ukraine, for example, Dr. Gralow discovered that often, doctors were not revealing to breast cancer patients their actual diagnosis. From 1991-2001, she worked to change this through the creation of 15 breast cancer support groups.
And Dr. Gralow’s legacy continues, as the first WE CAN summit in Africa was held in Uganda in 2013 patient advocates from 10 countries participated and it was so popular, the cancer survivors asked for a yearly conference. With Dr. Gralow’s support, WE CAN Summits have now been held in Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Georgia.
The Battle on the Homefront
Beyond the movement Dr. Gralow has launched abroad, she is also dedicated to improving the lives of her patients at home. She is steadfast in the belief that a breast cancer diagnosis does not have to define and constrain the lives of her patients.
After helping cancer survivors train for a triathlon in 1995, Dr. Gralow co-founded Team Survivor Northwest, an exercise and fitness program for women cancer survivors. Dr. Gralow – quite literally –embarks on the long journey of a breast cancer diagnosis with her patients, joining survivors as they climb mountains, snowshoe, run in marathons and complete triathlons.
Dr. Gralow is a trailblazer who was able to bring a new perspective to one of the world’s most challenging health problems. Through advocacy and mobilization, she has created a global support system with the goal of creating the support for and getting the resources needed, to assist women in the fight against breast cancer everywhere.
At IV, we admire the tenacity shared by those working to find a cure. Innovation requires the ability to envision a better world, and the creativity and courage to find a way to make it happen. Through the determination of innovators like Dr. Gralow, and the strength of patients fighting breast cancer every single day, we are one step closer to finding a cure and turning this vision into a reality.