A force that keeps motivating the world

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2019-2020 BCRF Investigators onstage during the Breast Cancer Research Foundation's New York symposium & awards luncheon.

Friday, October 18, 2019. Chilly weather, often overcast and grey yesterday in New York. Temperatures in the mid-50s, so they said, although you needed a warm jacket to be comfortable.

The night before, the heat went on in many of the apartment buildings. The nor’easter we were warned about brought some steady rain but it had long before moved north into New England where they were reporting fierce winds of 80, 90, and even more than 100 mph.

Yesterday I went down to the New York Hilton on Sixth Avenue and 54th Street for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation’s annual Symposium and Awards Luncheon. It begins with the Symposium which convenes somewhere around the ten o’clock hour. 

It began with the symposium moderated by BCRF Co-Scientific Directors, Drs. Larry Norton of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and Judy Garber of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The panelists included Drs. Eric Winer of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Dawn Hershman of Columbia University, and Neil Iyengar of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Myra Biblowit, William P. Lauder, Nina García, Donna Karan, and Kinga Lampert at the Breast Cancer Research Foundation’s annual Symposium and Awards Luncheon.

I’ve been attending these annual luncheons and the evenings since the mid-90s when Evelyn Lauder, its founder, launched the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF). It was “dedicated to ending breast cancer by advancing the world’s most promising research.” Since its inception BCRF-funded investigators have been deeply involved in every major breakthrough in breast cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment, survivorship and metastasis. 

My initial interest was Mrs. Lauder. She was the force. That was the main attraction for this reporter — watching a kind of dynamism in action — one that could even be compared in quality with fragrance, in terms of its effect/results. 

My interest in the actual condition was sparse. It was a “women’s disease” — which is actually is not. It was also coincidentally a time when I personally knew several women who were afflicted, and — most of whom —  recovered. 

The Hilton ballroom is enormous, and it was jammed — wall to wall — with tables of ten. Since its creation, I learned they’ve raised and awarded $800 million in Grants for breast cancer research. This year they were awarding $66 million in grants to 275 “investigators” from around the world. About 200 of them were in attendance to be recognized for their innovative projects and contributions.

Nearly 200 of this year’s grantees were in attendance to be recognized for their innovative projects and contributions to the field. At a scientific retreat the day prior, investigators were provided the rare and critical opportunity to collaborate with their colleagues, across institutions, across disciplines, and across the world.

The luncheon was hosted by ELLE Magazine Editor in Chief Nina Garcia. “Back in 2015, I discovered I had a gene mutation that put me at a high risk for breast cancer,” she told the audience. “And when you get that news, you think, ‘Why me? What does this mean?’ I would wake up and think, ‘well, when is the day when I’m going to wake up and be diagnosed with cancer?’ Thanks to research, I had options, and it breaks my heart when I know that some women do not have options.”

The Jill Rose Award  was presented by Dr. Larry Norton to Eric Winer MD. Then Myra Biblowit who has been head of BCRF for the last nineteen years introduced NBC’s Anne Thompson who briefly talked about her two breast cancer afflictions (both from which she recovered).

Dr. Eric Winer and Dr. Larry Norton.

She then introduced Roslyn Goldstein (or Roz to anyone who’s been attending these events). Mrs. Goldstein is a long time major contributor, and has been maybe since the beginning. She always wears a hat, and it is always stylish and in its way, reminiscent of the Queen Mother. I think it’s called wit. An active contributor throughout the history of the foundation, this year Roz was out to raise $50,000, which she would match. This was done by cell phone, in the room, in a matter of minutes.

Roz Goldstein and Anne Thompson.

Then came William Lauder son of Evelyn and Leonard to welcome the guests and to introduce Donna Karan. She spoke briefly about how the disease was never spoken about in conversation. It was back in the late 1960s when Donna was working as assistant designer to Anne Klein – then a hugely successful sportswear designer, when Klein was taken by the disease when they were finishing a collection that would be her last.

William Lauder.

Vera Wang is smoothly, yet casually elegant in person. So is her manner of speaking. It’s a kind of intelligence that is easy on the eye as well as the ear. “I have always been drawn to BCRF,” she told us, “in no small part due to its founder, the inimitable Evelyn Lauder, a woman I so admired. In a way this award today both reflects and belongs to her.”

Sitting there in this vast hall jammed with devoted supporters and brilliant scientists, listening to Vera, it was the same story that always drew me in, this Evelyn Lauder, who had an idea for the good of all, and found a route to actualizing it for the benefit of everybody. Everybody.

Vera Wang and Donna Karan.

On a one-to-one, Evelyn was gracious and assertive and naturally empathic – a woman’s trait, but not really. Originally, I had concluded that her motivation had been her own experience with the disease; that she’d been its victim. Although I’d been told that that was not the case. I still don’t know, nor would it matter. 

Photo: Harry Benson

Aside from her philanthropy, she was known for personally helping so many women — even women she only knew through other social connections, connecting them to doctors. She facilitated and even took them to the doctors; and followed up on their progress, and kept in touch, and kept moving on in her own life. In a way being in the room yesterday was like being in a shrine of a woman who continues to demonstrate to us that it can be done. For good; many things. 

In the last half hour of this luncheon event is the presenting of the Grants and the more than 200 Grantees  who were attending from all over the world, including the man who won the Nobel Prize this year for the category. It’s a sensational wonder to behold. All of whom were gathered as their names were announced, and created this portrait of achievement to BErealized, like the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Honorary Co-Chairs of the event included Kinga Lampert, Leonard A. Lauder, and William P. Lauder. Event Co-Chairs included Madelyn Bucksbaum Adamson, Roberta M. Amon, Anne H. Bass, Amy Goldman Fowler, Roslyn Goldstein, Dee Ocleppo Hilfiger, Gail Hilson, Shelly Kivell, Elyse Lacher, Aerin Lauder, Marigay McKee, Wendi Rose, Arlene Taub, and Simone Winston.

Underwriters of the event included Jody and John Arnhold, Amy P. Goldman Foundation, Roslyn and Leslie Goldstein, Kinga Lampert, Leonard & Judy Lauder Fund, Jeanne Sorensen Siegel and Herbert J. Siegel, ascena retail group inc., Lifetime, Tough Enough to Wear Pink, and Winston Flowers.

BCRF is the largest private funder of breast cancer research worldwide. If you would like to support BCRF mission, visit  www.bcrf.org to learn more.

Photographs: Getty Images for BCRF

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