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STRONG VOICES

20 Years of Breast Cancer Prevention
Our 20th Anniversary

Honoring 20 years of the Breast Cancer Fund and our mission to prevent the disease.

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Our Founder, Andrea Ravinett Martin

Andrea R. Martin, Founder

In January, 1989, two weeks after losing her sister-in-law to breast cancer, Andrea Ravinett Martin, founder and executive director of the Breast Cancer Fund, was diagnosed with an advanced tumor in her right breast and nodes. She was 42, had taken a negative mammogram four months earlier and was the first woman in her family to contract the disease.

Andrea Ravinett grew up in Memphis and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Newcomb College of Tulane University in New Orleans. After earning a masters in French on an NDEA fellowship from Tufts University, she moved to San Francisco in 1969 to teach.

In 1972, Andrea, now married, entered University of California Hastings Law School, where she wrote and edited for the law journal. On graduating, she joined the law firm of Crosby, Heafey, Roach and May and practiced as a litigator until 1980, when she left her practice to open a Memphis-style barbeque restaurant called Hog Heaven. As sole owner, Martin oversaw every aspect of this popular San Francisco establishment until she sold it six years later.

During the next two years, Andrea worked on raising her daughter Mather and volunteering for non-profits. She also participated as a fellow in the Coro Foundation's CityFocus program, a year-long training in civic leadership. In May, 1988, she married for the second time, to Richard Gelernter.

Eight months later, Martin discovered a 7-centimeter invasive tumor in her right breast and was told that she had a 40 percent chance of surviving the next five years. After struggling through a dozen conflicting recommendations, Andrea chose an aggressive treatment regimen to fight the stage 3 cancer: six rounds of high-dose chemotherapy, a mastectomy, six weeks of radiation, then eight rounds of another chemotherapy protocol.

The grueling year of treatment and side effects ended in February 1990. One month later, committed to a future of working for the advancement of women, Andrea joined Dianne Feinstein's bid for the governorship of California and became a member of the finance team that raised over $19 million for the campaign. When Feinstein narrowly lost the gubernatorial race and decided to seek a seat in the U.S. Senate, she appointed Martin Deputy Finance Director for Northern California.

Two months into the Senate campaign, Andrea found a tiny lump in her remaining breast. It was diagnosed as a new primary with none of the aggressive characteristics of the first, and a lumpectomy was recommended. She opted for a mastectomy and returned to the campaign two weeks later, using tamoxifen as adjuvant therapy.

While working for Feinstein, Andrea also began raising money to fight breast cancer. To attract funds for San Francisco's Cancer Support Community, a non-profit that had provided free life-saving support services throughout her odyssey with breast cancer, she conceived of and produced WoMen Helping Women in October, 1991, the first public event on breast cancer in the San Francisco Bay Area. Attended by 350 guests, including Governor and Mrs. Wilson, Feinstein and other California leaders, the event raised over $55,000 for the Community's breast cancer project.

Martin repeated WoMen Helping Women in October 1992, this time under the auspices of the Breast Cancer Fund, a national nonprofit that she established with a committed Board of Directors. In response to the public health crisis of breast cancer, the Breast Cancer Fund identifies—and advocates for elimination of—the environmental and other preventable causes of the disease.

In 1993, Martin was appointed to both Advisory Councils created by the California Breast Cancer Act of 1993 to oversee the distribution of new funding raised through a 2-cent tax on cigarettes. Serving as an advisor to Breast Cancer Early Detection Program, administered by the California Department of Health Services, she helped design a new system of access to detection and diagnostic services for underserved and uninsured women. As a member of the Breast Cancer Research Council, she helped shape a grants program for innovative breast cancer research, coordinated by the University of California. More recently, Andrea was appointed a founding member of the advisory board to the California Breast Cancer Treatment Fund, established with monies received from Blue Cross after its transition to for-profit status in the state of California to cover treatment costs for uninsured women diagnosed with the disease.

In early 1995, Ms. Martin joined 16 other breast cancer survivors in a successful climbing assault on 23,000-foot Aconcagua in the Argentine Andes. The climb was the centerpiece of a national campaign undertaken by the Breast Cancer Fund to raise hope, awareness and funding, and has been followed by two other major mountain climbs up Mt. McKinley and Mt. Fuji in 2000 . This landmark effort, like all the activities of the Breast Cancer Fund, is based on Ms. Martin's belief that death from breast cancer can be eradicated in our daughters' lifetimes and that until the means for cure and prevention are found, those at risk for and surviving breast cancer — which is all women — must be educated and supported completely.

In May 2001, Ms. Martin was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. This shocking news led her to announce in September that she was stepping down from her role as Executive Director after almost 10 years at the organization's helm. Andrea died two years later on August 6, 2003. Andrea was an inspiration to women and men around the world, and the work of the Breast Cancer Fund continues today thanks to her vision and leadership.