Nearly 20 years ago, a U.S. postage stamp was born, designed to raise research money for breast cancer. This month, the colorful stamp reached a milestone: The 1 billionth sold.
For the stamp’s creator, Sacramento breast cancer expert Dr. Ernie Bodai, “It’s the best Christmas present I could get. I’m ecstatic.”
Bodai said he doesn’t know where or exactly when the billionth stamp was sold. But when sales reached 993 million a few months ago, he began hoping that October’s breast cancer awareness month and December’s Christmas card mailings would push the stamp’s sales over the edge.
The 1 billion marker was announced recently by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., one of the stamp’s original sponsors in Congress.
“We must take steps to ensure the stamp continues to provide meaningful support for lifesaving research,” Feinstein said in a statement. “I look forward to working with the post office and nationwide retailers to increase awareness of the stamp and make sure it’s widely available.”
Earlier this month, President Barack Obama signed legislation to extend stamp sales another four years, to 2019. The measure, co-authored by Feinstein, passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate. In the House, the vote was 422-1.
The stamp’s image is based on Artemis, the ancient Greek goddess of the hunt and a protector of women. She’s depicted reaching for an arrow, mimicking the position women use during a breast self-exam. The same image has been used on breast cancer stamps in other countries
“Americans have used the power of the mail to raise awareness about this disease as well as hope for the cure,” Postmaster General and CEO Megan J. Brennan said in a statement.
The stamps, first issued in 1998, sell for an 11-cent premium above the price of a regular first-class postage stamp. They cost 60 cents, compared with a regular 49-cent stamp.
To date, U.S. breast cancer stamp sales have generated about $81.8 million for breast cancer research. More than 20 other countries sell their own version of breast cancer research stamps and funds raised stay in those countries.
“Every single penny goes to research,” said Bodai, noting that 70 percent of U.S. stamp sales funds go to the National Institutes of Health and 30 percent go to breast cancer research under the federal Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs.
He cited one beneficial breakthrough created by Genomic Health Inc. in Redwood City, which received nearly $10 million to develop a genetic test that screens cancer tumors for 21 distinct genes, then comes up with a recurrence score indicating whether the patient would benefit from chemotherapy.
“This is huge,” said Bodai, 64. “Ten years ago, we would literally shotgun everybody with chemotherapy. Now, up to one-third of ladies who are diagnosed with breast cancer can be saved from chemotherapy and its horrible side effects” as a result of the testing.
Bodai, who stopped doing breast cancer surgeries several years ago, runs Kaiser Permanente’s Breast Cancer Survivorship Institute, which counsels women about post-treatment side effects and lifestyle changes to help prevent a cancer recurrence. He said he hopes the 1 billion milestone will help remind Americans that buying a stamp is a simple way to support a cause.
“Almost everyone has been touched by breast cancer,” either themselves or a friend or family member, the former surgeon said. “This is a painless way to make a contribution.”