AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new program from the American Cancer Society in Austin recruits women to raise money for women cancer researchers.
The initiative, called ResearcHERS, kicks off officially at an event and panel Monday evening, and through the month of May, ACS leaders aim to recruit 25 women to raise $2,500 each. Twelve women have signed up to be ambassadors so far.
Helen Edwards is among them and has already raised nearly $2,000 for the cause. A two-time cancer survivor, Edwards’ fundraising mission is personal.
“I would not have been diagnosed as early as I was if someone hadn’t done research to prove that mammograms matter,” she said.
But research funding isn’t always distributed equally among men and women. It’s not clear what the gap is in the U.S., but a study published last year in the BMJ, a UK-based medical journal, found male cancer researchers received 69% of all grants and 78% of all dollars spent on cancer research in the country between 2000 and 2013.
ResearcHERS aim to provide a dedicated funding source for women doing cancer research in Austin and also to encourage young women and girls to pursue science.
“I have three granddaughters,” Edwards said, “so I want them to know that they can love science and make a difference in the world.”
The American Cancer Society already achieves a 50-50 split between men and women researchers, the organization says. The ACS funds 746 research grants in the U.S. as of August 2018, totaling $410 million. Texas researchers got 63 of those grants for a total of $40 million, and Austin accounts for seven total grants, four of which go to women.
Carolyn Phillips, a Ph.D candidate in the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Nursing, received ACS grant funding for her dissertation work, which studies the effects of music and storytelling on oncology nurses.
She’s been a nurse herself for 17 years and knows firsthand the toll the job takes on care providers.
“As I started to go through my career, I started realizing that I had changed as a healthcare professional,” Phillips said, “and that was impacting the care that I was able to give because I wasn’t coping with my emotions.”
Her research asked nurses to write down their thoughts, feelings and experiences. “At the end of four weeks, they had written a short story that was their care-giving story. And then I brought in a team of songwriters who then put their stories into a healing song for them.”
Nurses in her study saw increases in self-compassion and decreases in loneliness, insomnia, anxiety and depression. “Once they all realized they had the same experience, they were just kinder to themselves, they were kinder to each other,” Phillips said.
Her research wouldn’t have been possible without grant funding, and she and Edwards want others to benefit as well.
“Our goal is to end up with a regular funding program that the women researchers can count on,” Edwards said.
The goal for the pilot program is $50,000. In the future, as the initiative expands its reach, that number will grow and contribute to a pot of money set aside specifically for women researchers.
“It’s important to me that I do what I can to help others who are going through that battle,” said Edwards, whose mother and grandmother were also diagnosed with breast cancer. “I don’t want my grandchildren to be in that position.”