In a normal year, the footwear industry would have converged on New York this month for the QVC Presents “FFANY Shoes on Sale” gala, to lend their support to the fight against breast cancer. But with COVID-19 cases rising again throughout the country, organizers instead channeled their efforts toward QVC’s on-air and online sales, to sell roughly 50,000 pairs of shoes to fund grants for first-step breast cancer research.
Ron Fromm, chairman of the Fashion Footwear Charitable Foundation, which oversees the event, said that despite the ongoing pandemic, the organization remains committed to its 27-year mission: “To raise the critically needed funds to bring breast cancer education, awareness and treatment to the forefront of cancer research. And to not stop until breast cancer is eradicated.”
Medical experts say this aid couldn’t come at a better time.
Since the coronavirus hit the U.S. early this year, the virus has caused significant disruption to the fight against breast cancer — the implications of which could have a devastating impact on the lives of women in the years to come.
“While we are undergoing this global pandemic, breast cancer hasn’t stopped,” said Dr. Dorraya El-Ashry, chief scientific officer with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, a longtime FFCF partner. “One in eight women will get breast cancer in their lifetime. There are currently 168,000 women in the U.S. today living with metastatic breast cancer. And we still lose over 42,000 women every year in the U.S. to breast cancer.”
Now, those numbers could increase due to a decline in cancer screenings during the coronavirus health crisis, Dr. El-Ashry added. “Probably what’s going to happen is there will be a coming flood of diagnoses that are potentially at a more advanced stage,” she explained. “A study by the National Cancer Institute predicted that over the next 10 years, there would be a 1% increase in deaths from breast cancer [because of it].”
Which is why any efforts to raise awareness this year are vital. In addition to the QVC and FFANY fundraiser, other footwear companies have helped shine a light on women’s health this fall through product and marketing campaigns, including Roger Vivier, Ruthie Davis, APL and Easy Spirit, with proceeds benefiting BCRF and other organizations like Susan G. Komen, the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
Dr. El-Ashry said that donations are critical this year, as many corporations have had to scale back on their giving due to economic pressures from COVID. A loss of funding could mean some research projects might stop, or labs would have to close. “It’s not like a spigot that you turn it off and then a year later we turn it back on,” she said. “One year of lost funding could actually result in 10 years’ worth of lost research advances.”
Dr. Janie Grumley, director of the Margie Petersen Breast Center at Providence Saint John’s Health Center (another FFCF beneficiary), noted that medical researchers already were facing challenges when it came to gaining financial backing. “Government funding from the National Institutes of Health completely dropped off over the last few years with the current administration, so what you’ve been seeing are industry-sponsored studies,” she said. “Those are great because you can get things to market, but there’s a bias to them. If a company is paying for a study, they want you to come up with something beneficial to them.”
She added that the beauty of foundations like FFCF is that there are no strings attached. “They allow innovative researchers to do what they’re supposed to, which is come up with great new ideas that can improve care in the future.”
And many new innovations are being discovered to benefit breast cancer patients.
This past year, a FFCF seed research grant to the Weill Cornell Medicine Breast Program led to the identification of a specific genetic pattern that offered a hereditary explanation for the high risk of an aggressive form of breast cancer in Black women.
Meanwhile, Dr. Grumley said JWCI researchers are currently looking for a molecular technique to help predict which cancers will have a good response to chemotherapy.
Cedars-Sinai’s Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute this year received a seed research grant, in support of promising clinical trials. Its research focuses on all stages of the disease — prevention, detection and treatment — including alternative therapies, like reducing the need for chemotherapy in some cancers.
And the University of Michigan’s Rogel Cancer Center has been utilizing its FFCF grants to develop technologies to track circulating tumor cells and stop the spread of breast cancer.
Dr. Norah Lynn Henry, breast cancer disease lead at the Rogel Cancer Center, praised the shoe industry for its commitment to supporting her organization and its work. “Given the unprecedented challenges facing the fashion industry in 2020, it is a true testament to FFANY and the resiliency of its members that they have been able to continue to focus on supporting this incredibly important cause in the midst of the pandemic.”
With contributions from Madeleine Streets