by April Lisante
Jean Sachs has never had breast cancer. But for more than two decades as the head of the Living Beyond Breast Cancer organization, the Mt. Airy woman has dedicated her life to helping other women diagnosed with and living with the disease feel less afraid, less alone and more empowered.
If knowledge is power, Sachs takes her mission very seriously, working tirelessly to arm women with medical treatment information, coping skills and the most up-to-date research about the disease.
Living Beyond Breast Cancer, which is based locally in Bala Cynwyd, reaches 600,000 women a year nationwide. Its official mission is “to connect people with trusted breast cancer information and a community of support” as they live with the disease.
“It’s still really about helping women to live as well as possible,” Sachs said. “We obviously try to have a strong presence in this community.”
The organization was founded in 1991 by Marisa C. Weiss, M.D., a radiation oncologist who was looking for resources and support for her own patients who had undergone early-stage breast cancer treatments. LBBC was born when she organized a conference for the women where they could bond with one another while finding valid, important information about their conditions from medical experts.
In its first five years, the organization, working with an annual budget of roughly $100,000, provided patient outreach with two annual conferences, a breast cancer helpline and a quarterly informational newsletter.
When Sachs was named LBBC’s first executive director in 1996, she worked to hone a staff and board to oversee the organization. Since her arrival, she has become the chief executive officer and has overseen the organization’s growth to an annual budget of more than $5 million.
Sachs, who prior to joining LBBC spent time working with a state representative on legislative work for women’s issues, including breast cancer, always knew in her heart that helping women was her calling.
“I always knew I wanted to work on women’s health issues,” she said. “Women helping women be advocates for themselves. At LBBC, we try to take medical information and make it accessible.”
That means especially helping women who are newly diagnosed and afraid, and who don’t know where to turn for information outside of their doctor’s offices.
“Breast cancer is more complicated that it was a decade ago,” Sachs said. “It’s hard to have a choice when you have a life-threatening illness.”
Today, advances in medicine mean women are facing more testing, and because all breast cancers are different, treatment plans are different for every woman. Women also face issues beyond their day-to-day treatment plans. There is early menopause, bone loss, memory loss issues and more to be concerned about now. More women are living with metastatic breast cancer as well, a stage IV cancer that has spread from the breast to the lymph nodes or other organs, possibly including the bones.
Through LBBC, women can find Webinars, face-to-face conference talks and a help line, as well as advice and medically reviewed articles from trusted sources. That means they have the ability to connect with health professionals from around the country to get the latest peer-reviewed research, advice and news.
“It’s a community of support,” Sachs said. “It’s about getting the information out there. We really want to keep on top of [information] and keep on top of it in a way that is understandable.”
As Breast Cancer Awareness Month gets underway, Sachs is proud of the progress LBBC has made, but she is also looking toward 2020, hoping she can reach even more of those women who need LBBC’s assistance.
The reality is that of the 290,000 women who are diagnosed in the U.S. each year, 40,000 will die from the disease.
“We want to be able to reach more people when they are diagnosed,” Sachs said. “We want to be a place where people can come throughout. It’s a huge number to serve, and the issues are complicated. We want to be a place that they need.”
Visit LBBC.org for more information about Living Beyond Breast Cancer and its mission.