March 8th marks the annual observance of International Women’s Day, a celebration that originated as a Socialist political event but that has evolved over the years into a celebration of women’s achievements and value. This year’s theme is “Pledge for Parity”, a recognition of research indicating that, at current rates, global gender activity is not likely to be achieved until the year 2133. Organizers are encouraging men and women around the world to work towards increased respect and value for women throughout all cultures in order to expedite progress and increase women’s spheres of influence.
In addition to working to eliminate bias against women and promote women’s equality in all things, there have been many significant and meaningful themes and accomplishments that have flavored International Women’s Day over its 100-plus year history. There are also countless ways that communities and organizations have chosen to honor and celebrate the observation. Many healthcare facilities mark the event by conducting free breast cancer screenings and informational sessions regarding women’s unique health needs and risks, while other organizations coordinate fundraising runs, walks and activities dedicated to supporting women with cancer. Others use the day to recognize women from around the world who have facilitated or enacted changes in women’s roles around the world.
At Fifth Season Financial, we would like to acknowledge the increasing role that women have played in our understanding of cancer and other terminal conditions, and the best ways to provide care and support for those facing advanced stage illnesses. As women’s value and contributions to society continue to be recognized, more and more will be added to this list – especially as over half of today’s American medical school graduates are female.
Gertrude Belle Elion
Gertrude Belle Elion is a noted chemist who played an integral role in the development of a variety of important drugs. The most important of these was likely the invention of Purinethol, a leukemia-fighting drug credited with being the first of its kind. Over her career she developed 45 treatments that facilitate the strengthening of the immune system, enabling greater success in organ transplantation and enhanced cancer survival. She was awarded the Nobel Price for Medicine in 1988.
Mary Claire King
A geneticist, King defied traditionally held beliefs that breast cancer was caused by a random series of environmental and genetic factors. Instead, she dedicated herself to research looking for specific common genes present in women diagnosed with the disease, eventually finding chromosome 17 and the BRCA-1 gene.
Though not a scientist, Evelyn Lauder’s contributions to awareness of the risks of breast cancer are among the most notable made by women. Lauder was the daughter-in-law of famed cosmetics icon Estee Lauder, and after having been diagnosed herself with breast cancer in 1989 she founded the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and created the now-ubiquitous pink ribbon. Lauder died in 2011 of non-genetic ovarian cancer, and at the time of her death was praised by Former President Bill Clinton and his wife form U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in a statement that read in part, “Evelyn got the world closer to a time when no family will have to endure the pain of losing a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter or an aunt to this terrible disease.”
Dr. Susan Love
Dr. Susan Love is a surgeon and breast cancer researcher who has been called one of the “founding mothers” of the breast cancer awareness movement. She was a member of the National Cancer Advisory Board and is founder of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, an organization that began as an all-female research group searching for cutting edge breast cancer treatments. It is her mission to find a breast cancer cure in this generation.
No acknowledgement of women’s contributions to patient care would be complete without recognition of Florence Nightingale. Considered the founder of modern nursing, the lessons she learned during the Crimean War carried over to her work in London hospitals in the middle of the 19th century, where she is credited to introducing techniques that greatly improved conditions and reduced mortality. Some of the notions that she introduced regarding the use of sanitary techniques and hospital planning strategies are still being employed today.