It's LGBT Health Awareness Week. I therefore thought I'd post a piece I wrote (with slight variation) for Bay Windows as advance coverage for Dr. Susan Love's appearance at Fenway Health here in Boston this coming weekend.
Dr. Love is an eminent breast cancer surgeon. Some of you may remember her from her guest appearance on Season 3 of The L Word. A photo of her and her partner showing their hot-off-the-presses California marriage license also graced the pages of Bilerico on June 17, 2008.
Fenway Health began back in 1971, and has a long history of firsts related to LGBT health care.
Despite the local focus, I hope the piece has a wider appeal. Dr. Love is now recruiting for an "Army of Women" to help fight breast cancer, and wants LGBT women to be a part of it. That isn't some shameless plug for money or wearing pink armbands. Read on to see how she wants to revolutionize breast cancer research.
"I'm excited to come back to Boston and see all my friends there and my friends at the Fenway," said Dr. Susan M. Love, a pioneering breast cancer surgeon and women's health advocate.
Love heads the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation in Los Angeles, but knows Boston well from her time at Beth Israel Medical Center between 1974 and 1992. She will be returning to the Bay State for the Fenway Health Center's Women's Dinner Party on March 14, where she will present the annual Dr. Susan M. Love Award to actor Lily Tomlin.
The award honors individuals and/or organizations that have made significant contributions to the field of women's health. Tomlin is a member of Fenway's Board of Visitors, and she and her partner Jane Wagner are National Honorary Co-Chairs of Fenway's 10 Stories capital campaign for its new headquarters at 1340 Boylston Street. She was also instrumental in the campaign to build Fenway's current 7 Haviland Street home.
Dr. Love herself was the first recipient of the award, created by Fenway in 1992, and given to her that year at the first Women's Dinner Party, just before she left for California. "It's really touching to me," Love said, "that it has continued ever after and has been a great opportunity to feature the people of our community who are involved in women's issues and in lesbian health." Love is not involved in the selection of the honorees, but said Tomlin is "a great choice."
Love has other ties to Fenway as well. Her spouse Helen Cooksey, also a surgeon, worked there, and the clinic's then-new reproductive services helped facilitate the conception of their daughter, now 20 years old.
Organizations like Fenway and the gay and lesbian center in L.A. need our support because they provide health services that mainstream facilities may not, Love said. "A lot of people who are still closeted or don't feel comfortable in a traditional medical setting will be a lot more comfortable in a gay and lesbian health setting," she explained, "whether it's talking about sexual issues, about parenting in non-traditional families, or HIV, or any of the range of issues that are different in the gay and lesbian community. I think both the level of comfort and therefore trust is higher, and that's important. The providers in those centers are much more aware of the issues for the gay and lesbian community."
Love is also committed to ensuring that the LGBT community is well represented in breast cancer research. She is working to recruit LGBT women, as well as straight ones, for her new "Army of Women." The initiative, which launched last fall as a partnership between her foundation and the Avon Foundation, aims to recruit a million women who are willing to participate in breast cancer research. They seek women of all types, whether they are healthy, have breast cancer, are survivors, or are at high-risk of developing the disease.
Love's foundation is not necessarily funding the research itself. Rather, it serves as a matchmaker to pair women with scientists around the country. Love stressed, "You're not signing up to be in a research experiment." Participants merely receive e-mails about different studies and their criteria, and can then decide whether to take part. She added that the studies are also not necessarily drug trials. Some involve just filling out a questionnaire. Others might require contributing samples such as breast milk or urine.
Love is hopeful that The Army of Women will help spur a new approach to breast cancer research. She noted that 70 percent of the women who get breast cancer have no risk factors for the disease. "That means we don't have a clue what causes it. If 70 percent of women have no risk factors, then the risk factors are really not that good. What we really have to start doing is be more creative at what it could be. But we tend to keep looking in the same place. We just look at the risk factors over and over again." With the Army, she said, "I'm hoping to not only help scientists along, but then to force them to study new things and in new ways so we can actually get to the bottom of it."
Love is actively recruiting LGBT participants by working with organizations like Fenway and other LGBT health centers and physician's groups. "We have to be represented in the Army or the research won't represent us," she asserted. She noted that the Army even contains a group of transgender women, and she would like to develop research to study the unexplored area of how their use of hormones relates to breast development and their risk of cancer.
Information on how to join the Army of Women will be available at the Fenway Women's Dinner. You may also visit their Web site.
On a lighter note, comedian Kate Clinton will provide entertainment at the event. Katherine Patrick, daughter of Governor Deval Patrick and Diane Patrick, will attend as Honorary Chair.
Although Love said she is looking forward to her visit, she expressed one reservation. "I hope the weather's better by then. There is a reason I moved to L.A.," she joked. Regardless, she said, "I think we'll have a great night."
The Women's Dinner Party is on Saturday, March 14, 2009 at the Boston Marriott Copley Place. See www.fenwayhealth.org or call 617.927.6350 for details.