Breast Cancer Awareness Month – That’s What
Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM) was first observed in the United States in 1985; two years after Sybil Goldrich had a double mastectomy in April of 1983. BCAM has now grown to be described as a year round event considering the large number or organizations involved and the huge sums of money raised. Sybil Goldrich has gone on to become one of the leading consumer advocates involved in the fight for women’s health as it relates to breast implants and silicone in general. This is not what she had envisioned as a cancer patient who had massive difficulties with implants for reconstruction after her bi-lateral mastectomy. That was when she started asking questions. No one had really publicly done that before; and she demanded answers. All those involved soon realized that when they removed her cancer they had not removed her brain, or luckily for everyone, her sense of humor in some outrageous situations in court and out.
Sybil used the public forum to talk about the fact that breast implants had never been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Even though they were being sold as if they were. Her article on the subject, “Restoration Drama,” published in Ms. Magazine in June 1988, was just the beginning of basically: “What do Sybil Goldrich, Dow Corning, and several Billion Dollars have in common?” Her pursuit of making information available to all women regarding breast implants and silicone resulted in the largest class action suit settlement ever at that time.
And now, as a thirty year cancer survivor, Sybil is as actively involved as ever in providing information to claimants of injuries caused by silicone and covered by the huge class action. Having just celebrated her 75th birthday, Sybil is still a force to be reckoned with which now includes many diverse activities as well as her advocacy responsibilities.
Upon meeting with Sybil, as I have during the last two years, one gets a sense of purpose, tempered with a warm smile and a ready laugh hinting at a wonderful time to come no matter what the subject is.
MELISSA BERRY: Well, Sybil you look as terrific as ever, in fact, even better. And, I notice you have new pictures and are now seen in some different venues. What’s going on? It certainly looks like you are doing more than remaining Dow-Corning’s number one nemesis.
SYBIL GOLDRICH: I just recently turned 75 and am 31 years post breast cancer and 10 years post kidney cancer. I love every day of my life. I’ve taken up an extra new career as an actress/model and it is more fun than the serious work I have dedicated my life to for so long. I have a great marriage (53 years next month), happy children and grandchildren and although there were times that I didn’t think I would make it, I did and so I fill my days with work and play and relationships that bring me and those around me joy. It doesn’t get better than that!!! I still talk to women who need help and information.
MB: So it was you I saw in those commercials and print ads. A long way from being hustled in and out of courts around the country during all those years of hearings as you exposed scientific wrong doings regarding breast implants Now, with this new career – I guess no intermission for you – what’s your ongoing involvement with Dow Corning? That was a huge battle that resulted in ongoing responsibilities for you.
SB: I serve on the Claimants’ Advisory Committee of the Dow Corning Bankruptcy along with 2 lawyers. We are the voice of claimants in ongoing discussions with Dow Corning and the Court.
MB: The settlement was actually how many years ago?
SB: I won’t go into the dates of the settlements because it is all too confusing. Payments to women injured by Dow Corning implants are on-going and claims can be made until 2019. To date, several billion dollars has been given to claimants by all of the various manufacturers. I can’t go into exact numbers because that information is guarded by the court right now, but the number is close enough. There were two major settlements but all manufacturers, have been paying claims since the late 90s and Dow Corning started paying in around 2000.
MB: So, what’s new with the FDA and implant manufacturers?
MB: Oh. (Pause) Well, last year you explained “Gummy Bears” as the latest implant material, which are filled with toxic materials. Whatever happened? There’s certainly not much information available.
SB: “Gummy Bears” have been approved and are being sold along with silicone and saline implants – doctor/patient choice.
MB: They are still selling implants and doing it by just changing the toxic ingredients?
SB: I don’t know what they are filling implants with these days because my work focuses on injured women and not on the FDA – they approved implants and I can’t change that although I wish I could. Because they approved breast implants, we are now caught in a situation where nobody will make the effort to develop a safe implant. Approval by the FDA removed all incentive.
MB: Since women’s health issues are your primary focus now, tell us the latest developments in this area. What’s going on with women’s health issues?
SB: We have been evaluating, state by state, how the Affordable Care Act treats women with breast implants. Our goal is to insure that women can be explanted when recommended by a physician and can have an MRI to diagnose whether or not the implants have ruptured. The FDA says that MRIs should be done in those cases. Each state, at this time, treats women differently and we are working toward uniform and complete care for women with breast implants.
MB: Does it seem that women are still having as much reconstruction? What seems to be the most popular and what is the MOST realistic and successful?
SG: I don’t know about who and what women are doing with reconstruction, but the same choice are available: do nothing and live well, have Free Flap tissue transfer to create breasts (serious surgery that must be done by a plastic surgeon specifically trained to perform that surgery), or get some sort of implant.
MB: What about the recent celebrity telethon at the Kodak Theatre which raised over 100 million dollars for cancer research, yet it wasn’t clear what the resulting monies were being spent on. It seems there is always some solution to some form of cancer just on the brink of being discovered and then it never comes to fruition.
Is there some answer to this that might help the general public understand what is going on? Who decides where all this money goes and does it really get there?
SB: I think the recent celebrity Telethon was good because it highlighted many of the new developments that can only come with adequate research monies. For example, designing chemotherapy that best fits a patient’s genetic structure. But, I think it would be wonderful if they could do all of that research in the Cancer College setting: my dream situation would provide a campus location for all of the major cancer researchers to assemble, follow their own particular research and then sharing that information immediately with others so that new directions can be forged. I think a cure could be found more quickly with instant sharing of findings, but there are issues of patents and copyrights that prevent researchers from wanting to participate in that setting. And so we are left with slow going. I guess that’s better than no going.
MB: Sybil, every year when I get an update from you, and then put it side by side with articles that are out there, it feels like there is genuine hope for all of us. Not all of us have your intestinal fortitude and thank you for always giving us the straight information and not sugar coating it.
SB: As I told you last year and I continue to say, I stopped sugar coating things decades ago when it was just myself. With so many women’s groups keeping their eyes on issues, less and less gets sugar coated. Hey, we all like some sugar to make the medicine go down but if we’re really smart, we know that’s not good for anyone.
And that’s Sybil Goldrich – 2014! Still working tirelessly for all of us and finding time to laugh and enjoy her life and make us all feel that maybe we’ll all just live happily ever after if we even have a dab of her fortitude glue.
Until next year…be well Sybil.
Thanks, Melissa. That’s my wish for us all.