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“What kind of cancer is it?” was the first question Barbara Brenner asked her doctor after hearing that the lump in her breast was malignant. His answer: “You don't need to know that.” Wrong response. Brenner, who was already an activist, made knowing her business and spreading knowledge her mission. The power behind Breast Cancer Action® and its transformative Think Before You Pink campaign, Barbara Brenner brought an abundance of wit, courage, and clarity to the cause and forever changed the conversation. What had been construed as an individual crisis could now be seen for what it was: a pressing concern of public health and social justice, with environmental issues at the center of prevention efforts.
Collected in So Much to Be Done, and framed by personal accounts of Barbara and her influential work, Brenner’s columns and blog posts form a chronicle of breast cancer research and health care activism that is as inspiring as it is informative. As she takes on the corporate forces at work in breast cancer research and treatment and in the “pinkwashing” of fund-raising for the cause, Brenner, a self-described hell-raiser, contends with cancer herself, twice, and her words offer understanding and encouragement to all those whose lives are touched by the disease.
When Brenner was diagnosed with ALS in 2011, she broadened her critique of health care while also writing about her own experience. Infused with her characteristic moxie, humor, anger, and compassion, these reflections from her last two years provide an in-depth, precisely observed portrayal of what it is to live with a terminal disease and to die on one’s own terms.
A key figure in North American breast cancer history, Barbara Brenner was executive director of the nonprofit organization Breast Cancer Action, based in San Francisco. She died in 2013 at the age of sixty-one.
Barbara Sjoholm is an author and translator. She was a cofounder of the feminist publisher Seal Press and an editor of many works of women’s studies.
Rachel Morello-Frosch is professor of environmental science, policy, and management at University of California, Berkeley, and a member of the scientific advisory board of Breast Cancer Action.
Anne Lamott is the author, most recently, of Small Victories, which includes an essay about Barbara Brenner.
"Barbara Brenner was anything but silent. She embodied the spirit of Audre Lorde, who believed that 'when I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less important whether or not I am afraid.' Barbara Brenner reminded us that sometimes it takes ruffling a few feathers to dislodge complacency."—Gayle A. Sulik, PhD, author of Pink Ribbon Blues
"Barbara was the person who most influenced my own thinking and writing about breast cancer. Only now is the rest of the world catching up to where she was over a decade ago on critical issues: the limitations and harms of screening, the problem with pinkwashing, the conundrum of DCIS, the dearth of funds for metastatic disease, the need to merge breast cancer activism and environmentalism, the need to better track research. I owe so much to Barbara as a writer, as a thinker, as an activist, as someone living with breast cancer, and as a woman."—Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter
"A visionary like Barbara Brenner comes along so rarely, and when such a person has left a wealth of insightful commentary filled with brilliant analyses and trenchant wit, we are doubly fortunate. Social justice activists, breast cancer and consumer advocates, academics, feminists, and anyone else interested in how breast cancer intersects with other key environmental and women's health concerns will find this edited collection of Barbara's writings a treasure trove of tools and ideas for making this world a better place for all."—Judy Norsigian, cofounder, Our Bodies Ourselves
"Barbara transformed how health scholars and advocates think and act politically. Her pointed and often comical reflections on pink ribbon culture and her experience of living with ALS challenged her readers to ask difficult questions about well-intentioned generosity and compassion, both individual and corporate. A thinker and a doer, Barbara inspired us to move beyond passive skepticism and toward action to challenge the status quo of health funding, research, and care."—Samantha King, author of Pink Ribbons, Inc.
"Readers will learn to prize the activist as well as the woman behind the message."—Library Journal
"Brenner is simultaneously heartfelt and acerbic, which makes this collection both engrossing and darkly humorous."—American Library Association’s GLBTRT Blog
"Why should you read this book? Because this is not another pity-party book written by someone with a life-threatening illness. Not once does she mourn for her losses—instead Brenner always shows the world that she is still capable, still living, still loving, and still fighting."—Lambda Literary
"Invaluable insight into...the most remarkable figure in the history of the political breast cancer movement."—Nursing Clio
"Brenner’s writing is imbued with careful and precise language. It makes each article and blog posts both easy to read and dense with important information."—Beyond Chron
"So Much to Be Done is a must read for anyone interested in learning more about breast cancer activism. In fact, health activists of any sort have much to learn from Barbara Brenner."—Nancy’s Point