Transportation

Pink Plates hit the road with breast cancer-screening message

Video: Pink license plates raise breast cancer awareness

Breast cancer survivor Heather McCullough explains what she wants to happen when California drivers start seeing new pink ribbon license plates on the highway. She was one of several survivors who attended a press event to promote the new plates
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Breast cancer survivor Heather McCullough explains what she wants to happen when California drivers start seeing new pink ribbon license plates on the highway. She was one of several survivors who attended a press event to promote the new plates

Special-interest license plates in California can say a lot about a driver’s beliefs, from a love of nature to a religious affiliation. A pink new plate would add a public health concern to the list, promoting breast cancer awareness and reminding California women that “early detection saves lives.”

Advocates from across the state hyped the newly available breast cancer plates at the California Automobile Museumon Wednesday, hoping to boost attention to the need for early breast cancer screening. The Department of Motor Vehicles will begin printing the plates as soon as 7,500 prepaid orders are placed. The program will expire if not enough plates are ordered by August 2016.

The “survivor sisters,” as the pink plate campaign’s five founders call themselves, spent more than two years working with state legislators to get the license plate approved. Assembly Bill 49, sponsored by then-Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, was signed into law in September 2014. Such plates are already available in more than 30 states.

A portion of the sales revenue will go toward the Department of Health Care Services’ “Every Woman Counts” program, which offers mammograms and other reproductive health screenings to uninsured and underinsured women.

“The journey through the Legislature was not easy,” Buchanan said at the event. “But when you’re standing on the shoulders of the survivor sisters, there’s no way you’re not going to get the job done.”

The women, most from the Bay Area, urged the museum audience to get the word out about the plates, which they hope will provide a 365-day reminder about the importance of mammograms. The plates are available for pre-order online, and prices range from $50 for plates with letters picked at random to $98 for personalized plates. So far, 275 breast cancer plates have been ordered.

About 1 in 8 women develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society. Rates of death attributed to breast cancer have been steadily declining since the 1990s, due to a combination of earlier detection through screening and increased awareness, as well as improved treatment.

Heather McCullough, one of the “survivor sisters,” was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer four years ago after noticing a lump. If she had been screened earlier she may have avoided the 18 weeks of chemotherapy and four surgeries, she said.

“I want women to see [the license plate] and think,” said the 40-year-old Brentwood woman. “I want mothers to feel like they can have the conversation with their daughters and have screening be something they grow up with instead of something they’re introduced to later in life.”

Department of Health Care Services director Jennifer Kent said the screening program for uninsured and underinsured women often heads to the chopping block during tough economic times. It continues to serve thousands of women each year, although cuts have been made.

Even after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, many women still see their illnesses go undetected without the program’s assistance, Kent said.

“For your own personal health, it’s important to get connected to a provider early on,” she said. “And we can avoid the cost to society of having individuals walking around with late-stage cancer and requiring treatment that impacts our economy.”

Breast cancer survivor Heather McCullough explains what she wants to happen when California drivers start seeing new pink ribbon license plates on the highway. She was one of several survivors who attended a press event to promote the new plates

Sammy Caiola: 916-321-1636, @SammyCaiola

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