Saturday’s President’s Program concluded with the story of how a single idea from a single person turned into a long-term effort that has raised $85 million for breast cancer research.
Balazs “Ernie” Bodai, MD, FACS, director of The Breast Cancer Survivorship Institute, Kaiser Permanente, Sacramento, Calif., talked about his work in creating the Breast Cancer Research Stamp, which sold its 1,000,000,000th stamp in December. The breast cancer surgeon took the audience on his journey through the legislative process as a way to inspire others to take up causes important to them.
Preparing a talk and thinking about the ongoing reduction in federal funding for breast cancer research, Dr. Bodai had the idea of creating a special stamp that would cost 1 cent more, with the penny going toward research. His first stop was the U.S. Postal Service, who said they didn’t do that.
“I decided it would take an act of Congress,” he said during the Jim and Midge Breeden Lecture, “The Power of One.”
So he started working to get Congress to act. He started by writing the 50 female members of Congress but got no response. He followed up by traveling to Washington for face-to-face meetings. He found that the congresswomen had the letter, but didn’t take it seriously until he showed up in person.
After more trips to Washington, a bill was introduced in 1996. But it was forgotten in the election-year crush. Dr. Bodai’s new plan that June was an all-out assault on Washington, trying to get support of larger groups and speaking everywhere he could to anybody who would listen, sometimes in front of just 1-2 people.
“It didn’t matter, because if one person in the audience caught fire, it was worth the time and travel,” he said.
Without realizing it, Dr. Bodai had become a lobbyist. This trained surgeon realized he didn’t know how a bill became law, so he went to the library and started learning from books and real-world experience.
“Over and over again, I heard as I was lobbying in Washington, that 200 is the magic number because it brings up the issue on the radar screen,” he said. “Because for every letter they receive, there are 9,999 other people who feel the same way who do not take the time to write a letter.”
The Breast Cancer Research Stamp Act Bill passed the House on July 22, 1997, and was signed into law Aug. 13, 1997.
Since then, the money raised has helped fund research into circular tumor cells, genomic profiling and nanotechnology. Some of the research has helped in the fight against ovarian, colon, and other cancers.