Making a Difference: The Avon Breast Cancer Crusade seeks to help those most in need

February 06, 2017
Carolyn Ricci directs the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade, which is part of the Avon Foundation for Women.

When Carolyn Ricci moved to New York more than a decade ago, she knew that breast cancer was an important issue for women, but she had never been involved in fundraising or advocacy to fight the disease. And she certainly didn’t expect to end up as the program director for one of the world’s largest corporate philanthropic efforts in the fight against breast cancer.

“It was really the happiest of accidents. I was moving to New York, and I found a listing for a job with the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade. I only knew it was an important place doing important work,” Carolyn says. “I grew into the job, and I got to see firsthand the difference our funding makes. Every day on the job literally saves the lives of the most vulnerable among us.”

The Avon Breast Cancer Crusade is part of the Avon Foundation for Women, a nonprofit, philanthropic organization created in 1955 by the internationally known Avon cosmetics company. The Avon Foundation is dedicated to helping women in need all over the world, specifically by eradicating breast cancer and ending domestic and gender violence.

Between 1992 and 2015, the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade raised and donated more than $800 million to breast cancer programs around the world. Much of the funding goes to supporting research at facilities like the John Wayne Cancer Institute, where researchers have received nearly $4 million from the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade over the years.

“We’ve helped with everything from education and outreach to screening services and treatment activities." – Carolyn Ricci

Avon also helps fund patient support programs, like breast health outreach for community organizations to facilitate screenings and patient navigator programs to help women who may otherwise struggle to navigate the cancer treatment process. “There are many women who don’t have insurance, don’t have adequate insurance or who fear or distrust the medical system,” Carolyn says. “Patient navigation increases the ability of these women to overcome barriers to care and to access the services they need.”

Most of the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade’s donations come from its most popular and well-known project, AVON 39 The Walk To End Breast Cancer.

These two-day events take place seven times a year in seven cities across the country. Participants raise a minimum of $1,800 each by walking 39.3 miles in two days.

“Since the walk started in 2003, we’ve granted more than $45.7 million to organizations in Southern California alone,” Carolyn says. “In that same time frame around the whole country, it’s $590 million.”

For eight years, the Institute has been actively involved with AVON 39 as the medical sponsor for the Santa Barbara walk. “The medical professionals from the John Wayne Cancer Institute are tremendous,” Carolyn says. “You can spot them in medical tents and on the route wearing bright red shirts. They volunteer their time and expertise, helping to keep walkers healthy, hydrated and well cared for all weekend.”

She is particularly excited about the research being done at the Institute, with Avon’s support. “We have a long history together. Their work aligns nicely with our priorities.”

Avon’s support has touched every aspect of breast cancer research at the Institute and aided many researchers’ work toward improved treatments for breast cancer and a better understanding of the disease. “We’ve helped with everything from education and outreach to screening services and treatment activities,” Carolyn says. “And of course we partner with the Institute’s researchers.”

The Institute currently has two areas of research supported in part by grants from the Avon Foundation. Delphine J. Lee, MD, PhD, is investigating the impact that microbial colonies have on the development of breast cancer, while Dave S.B. Hoon, PhD, and Diego Marzese, PhD, are studying new therapies for metastatic breast cancer.

“It’s exciting that these funds are going toward researching areas of focus that haven’t been studied in depth before. Metastatic breast cancer is an area that especially needs our help,” Carolyn says. “Currently there are no cures for metastatic disease. The Avon Breast Cancer Crusade is investigating ways to stop metastasis, developing better treatment options and improving quality of life and outcomes for metastatic patients. These are priorities that run across all of our programs.”

To support breast cancer research at the Institute, please contact Mary Byrnes at 310-582-7102.