Breast cancer is a devastating experience - for victims, their spouses, children and friends. But it does not have to be a life or death sentence.
Since 1994, Arizona Sen. Amanda Aguirre, D-Yuma, has helped women with breast cancer get screening. Aguirre also had the savvy to apply for a grant from the Susan G. Komen for the Cure. On Friday, Komen recognized Aguirre for her advocacy of breast cancer education by presenting her with its 2007 Advocate of the Year award at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Neighborhood Center in Yuma.
While serving in the state House of Representatives two years ago, Aguirre was instrumental in the passing of a bill to create "breast cancer license plates." Special-order license plates cost an additional $25; with the breast cancer plates, $17 of that amount goes to breast cancer research.
"The license plate bill was a little tricky to move through the Transportation Committee," Aguirre said. "They said, 'We already have too many special plates.' But I told them, we have to get this through, it's about saving lives. No one should have to go without early detection."
Two years ago, Gov. Janet Napolitano, herself a breast cancer survivor, unveiled the the first breast caner license plate.
The plate bearing Komen's renowned pink ribbon and the slogan "Early detection saves lives" was designed by Aguirre and the Arizona Motor Vehicle Department.
It was because of Aguirre's advocacy she came to the attention of Charlie Thompson, the founding member of Komen's Phoenix affiliate.
Thompson said Komen gives $100 million annually in grants for breast cancer treatment nationwide. He explained that most of the funds obtained to fight breast cancer are raised at the "Race for the Cure," a 10-kilometer run, held annually on the second Sunday of October in Phoenix.
"It's the largest race in Arizona," Thompson said of the 10K. "It's just awesome to see 40,000 people fill the streets of Phoenix. It raises over $2 million. Amanda (Aguirre) did a terrific job of getting her bill through, but more important, she is a great friend."
Aguirre has branched out her advocacy and is now the director of a nonprofit, Regional Center for Border Health Incorporated. Border Health received a $48,000 grant from last year's "Race for the Cure."
Its mission is to reach isolated women in Yuma County, especially those who do not have health insurance. Aguirre estimates that 100,000 women throughout Arizona are uninsured.
"Our program reaches over 10,000 women every year in Yuma (County)" Aguirre said. "We do early detection for breast and cervical cancer. It is especially stressful just to cope with the disease, but to not have insurance makes it worse. We want to provide this service for all women, insured and uninsured."