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Oct 26, 2006

Breast cancer stamp will raise funds to fight disease

Story PictureWhat do a dreaded disease and the post office have in common? Normally, not very much, but today the two ran into each other at the Belize City House of Culture. The result, reports News Five’s Kendra Griffith, could be far reaching.

Kendra Griffith, Reporting
For the over one million women worldwide who were diagnosed with breast cancer this year, this rainbow coloured stamp represents hope.

Dr. Irene Csontos, Dean, Hope University of Medicine
?It brings more awareness, helps raises funds, which leads into education, education leads into prevention and that will reduce the breast cancer and ultimately will save lives.?

Deborah Alvarado, Cancer Survivor
?This new stamp is an inspiration to survivors and their families. It helps to spread the word that there is life after cancer.?

The stamp depicts Roman goddess, Diana, the mythological protector of women. But besides being nice to look at, the image has a subliminal message.

Dr. Ernie Bodai, Dir. of Breast Surgical Services, Kaiser Permanente Hospital
?She?s reaching for a bow in her quiver to fend off an enemy of women, which in this case is breast cancer. The position that she assumes is also the position for mammography and for breast self-examination, so there is a hidden message in there for women to go get examined, for women to do their breast exam and for women to do mammography. The rainbow of colours represents the fact that it is a disease that affects women of all colours and the rainbow is also traditionally the symbol for hope, which in this case is hope for a cure.?

The idea to raise money and awareness through postage came from Dr. Ernie Bodai, a breast cancer surgeon from Sacramento, California. Belize is only the third country to implement the initiative.

Dr. Ernie Bodai
?We?ve sold nine hundred and fifty million stamps in the United States and have raised about fifty-seven million dollars for breast cancer research. Seeing the success of the programme in the United States, we decided to travel around the world and we started out?Dr. Csontos and myself are both born in Hungary, we?re Hungarian refugees to the United States. And we approached the country of Hungary and within three months?actually four months they issued the breast cancer stamp as well. And I?m proud to announce that Belize actually beat that record because you did it in three months.?

According to Minister of Health, Jose Coye, the project comes on the heels of a plan by M.O.H. to refocus its approach to the health system by putting the emphasis on prevention rather than cure. It also acts as an example of how funds can be channelled to needy NGOs.

Jose Coye, Minister of Health
?So I think it is a pioneering approach as to how we can get resources from the public sector through taxes to the NGO?s in the fight against the burdensome diseases, cancer happens to be one of them no doubt.?

The money raised from the stamps will be administered by a committee and aid the Belize Cancer Society in its efforts.

Kathy Esquivel, Secretary, Belize Cancer Society
?We?re very involved in education, support to those who have been diagnosed and we?re also involved in some kind of palliative care for the terminally ill.?

Kendra Griffith
?How big of a help will this initiative be for you??

Kathy Esquivel
?I can see it being a big help. As I said, one of the things we?re trying to do is get our cancer registry started, which means we would really know how many people and who and what kind of cancers we have in Belize and that?s very important.?

Important because although we do not have the exact figures, evidence suggests that breast cancer is the second most diagnosed cancer among women in Belize.

Kendra Griffith
?How far away from or close to a cure are we??

Dr. Ernie Bodai
?That?s an excellent question that we are asked everyday. Unfortunately there is a lot of work to be done, there are major advances being made everyday. But that one little piece of information that is still missing that we need so crucially, and that?s what all the research dollars around the world are being raised for, so it could be tomorrow or it could be a year from now, but hopefully before the next generation faces the disease, it won?t be a disease any longer.?

And until there is a cure, Secretary of the Belize Cancer Society Kathy Esquivel says the next best thing is …

Kathy Esquivel
?Early detection is the most important thing. That involves breast self-examination, mammograms after a certain age, just taking care and listening to your body and the sign that something is changing, getting professional help.?

That is what cancer survivor Deborah Alvarado did when she was diagnosed in 1997. Alvarado, who has been cancer free since 1999, says she has seen positive changes in the way the disease is treated in society.

Deborah Alvarado
?We have more tools now than in 1997. One important thing is that we can now talk about cancer and this takes away some of the fear. We look around and see survivors and this give us hope and the courage to fight. There is far more education and information available through talks, support groups, brochures, and the media. Do I regret having cancer? No I do not, it is something I could choose, yet in a way cancer is what has made me what I am today. I am stronger, most confident and better able to help myself and help others.?

The Breast Cancer Research stamp is available at the Belize Post Office for one dollar.

Kendra Griffith reporting for News Five.

The Ministry of Health has yet to determine what portion of the proceeds from stamp sales will go to the Cancer Society.

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