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Breast Cancer Activists Deliver Petition, Concerns to Clintons

By Amy Goldstein
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON

In the throng of breast cancer survivors and their supporters at the Ellipse here Monday, Fred Miccio stood alone, clutching a large photograph of a smiling woman with long brown hair.

The woman in the picture, Maria, his wife of 20 years, would have been 45 Monday. She died of breast cancer last month.

"I felt perhaps I could do something," said the Syracuse, N.Y., utility company dispatcher, who had gathered with others near the White House to ask President Clinton for more federal research funds to treat and eventually cure breast cancer. "Somebody has to speak out."

Miccio, a novice at activism, as were many at Monday's rally, was in the nation's capital to add his voice to the growing political clout of a movement dedicated to preventing, treating and curing a disease that now affects one woman in nine. Women and their families, who once hid their struggle with breast cancer, offered the most tangible proof to date that they have become an effective lobbying bloc.

Two years ago, when a small delegation of breast cancer activists tried to give President Bush 140,000 signatures seeking more research funds, they never knew whether their petition got beyond the White House security gate.

But Monday, leaders of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, a grass-roots group that didn't exist three years ago, had a personal audience with President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and gave them petitions containing 2.6 million signatures.

As the spread of the disease accelerates, such political activity has grown. Far more prevalent than the AIDS epidemic, from which the new activists are borrowing many of their strategies, breast cancer causes 46,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, and 182,000 new cases annually.

During the meeting in the White House East Room, President Clinton said that Donna E. Shalala, secretary of health and human services, would convene a meeting in December to begin drafting a "national action plan" for preventing, diagnosing, and treating breast cancer. He also signed a proclamation making Tuesday National Mammography Day, encouraging the breast X-rays that often help detect the cancer early.

In response to lobbying pressure, federal subsidies for breast cancer research have increased from $90 million last year to about $400 million today.

According to Visco, the National Institutes of Health has asked for $449 million for breast cancer research next year, but the coalition is seeking $659 million.