It all began while watching the Today Show from a hospital bed. It is 1991, Patti Goodall is a 38-year-old mother with 3 and 5-year-old children at home. She has been admitted to the hospital for complications from her first chemo session.
To pass the time, she is flipping through the TV channels and lands on the Today Show. Someone talking about breast cancer catches her attention. Elenore Pred, co-founder of Breast Cancer Action is on television.
Pred had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1981. She had a recurrence in 1988 and was angry that in all those years, there had not been any progress in how the disease was being treated. She was also angry at the increasing number of young women being diagnosed with and dying from breast cancer. She was planning a protest rally for Mother’s Day in San Francisco, CA. After Patti got home from the hospital, she called information, got Pred’s number, and gave her a call.
Patti has a support group meeting coming up the next week. She is one of their newest members. She had been reluctant to join the group thinking that it would be a “touchy-feely” experience, something that didn’t suit her. Sherry Kohlenberg, another young mother with breast cancer, convinced her to go. What she found was a group of women who were very informed.
“It was not a bunch of women sitting around whining. They were very knowledgeable. They were reading [scientific] journal articles. They were talking about their ability to have children after breast cancer. They were talking about genetics;” remembered Goodall. “I thought ‘Wow, these women are on top of things!’”
Patti decided to pitch the idea of hosting a rally to the group. “She was red-faced and angry, saying that there’s not enough money for breast cancer research; we need to protest, too. Let’s do a Mother’s Day rally!” recalled Mary Jo Kahn, a fellow support group member.
“We thought, ‘We can do this. We can start something like this in Virginia to raise awareness, to demand more money for research and to be the voice for Virginia women affected by breast cancer!’” said Goodall.
Every member of the support group agreed. They had two months to plan. They lined up speakers. There was a notice in the paper. They recruited their children to make signs. About 50 people showed up for the rally. Doctors and nurses were there. A reporter was there.
“Our children had made some posters that were on the front page of the next day’s newspaper. As a result of the rally, The Richmond Times-Dispatch did a whole story on the current state of breast cancer and our nascent organization’s efforts to eradicate it. We had met our first goal: to raise awareness.” said Kahn.
The rally ignited a spark in five of the support group members. Patti Goodall, Sherry Kohlenberg, Mary Jo Ellis Kahn, Judi Ellis and Phoebe Antrim decided to form VBCF.
“After the rally was over, the five of us knew we had another goal yet to meet. We needed to make sure enough research money was available not just to make progress on breast cancer, but enough actually to eradicate the disease. Most of us had young children. What we were fighting for was prevention.” said Kahn.
Check back next month to find out what happened next and for more photos from VBCF’s archives!