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Celebrity Breast Cancer Fund-Raising

Familiar faces increase donations and improve awareness of the need for screening.

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

When the powers-that-be at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston heard that singer Sheryl Crow, a nine-time Grammy Award winner, was headed their way to do a concert in Fenway Park last July, they called her to ask a favor. Would she mind stopping by to talk to patients?

The 44-year-old singer, who successfully underwent breast cancerbreast cancer surgery earlier this year, obliged cheerfully, telling the Dana-Farber staff she was happy to give back to those fighting the disease.

Crow talked to women and doctors at the institute's women's cancer center and its children's clinic. The unannounced visit, says Lisa McEvoy, a Dana-Farber spokeswoman, "came as a huge surprise to those waiting for appointments or receiving chemotherapy, bringing smiles to many patients' faces."

A month later, Crow was scheduled to give another Boston concert. A few weeks before the concert, two tickets, plus a "meet-and-greet" with Crow, were auctioned off at a Dana-Farber fund-raiser called the Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon. "The winning bid for the tickets was $1,100," McEvoy says. In all, the telethon raised nearly $3 million, and celebrity star power was part of the reason for the success, she says.

These days, celebrities are increasingly embracing all types of health-related causes -- testifying before Congress to lobby for more funds for research; donating time to appear on public service announcements to encourage people to get screened for diseases; and taking active roles at fundraising dinners, walks, and other events. "The bigger the name, the more they raise," says Janet Keller, a spokeswoman for Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where star-studded fundraising events for breast cancer research and other causes are plentiful.

Celebrities for Breast Cancer

But the breast cancer cause seems to attract more celebrities than many others. Some of the celebrities involved don't have personal experience with breast cancer, but many who donate their time do.

The pool of celebrity fund-raisers who have dealt with breast cancer is, unfortunately, large. In recent years, in addition to Crow, Suzanne Somers, Jaclyn Smith, Melissa Etheridge, Kate Jackson, Elizabeth Edwards, Richard Rountree, and the late singer-songwriter Soraya, have gone public with their breast cancer battle.

October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, is an especially busy time for celebrity fund-raisers, where the event guest lists sometimes look more like a Who's Who for an entertainment award show. Jennifer Aniston, Cameron Diaz, Kelly Ripa, Demi Moore, Beyonce Knowles, Christina Aguilera, and Crow are all expected to attend an Oct. 5th benefit hosted by Fred Segal Fun, a trendy Santa Monica, Calif. boutique, and Cedars-Sinai's Women's Cancer Research Institute.

Having such star power at fund-raising events and behind breast cancer campaigns does more than push the funds raised higher, experts say. It also increases public awareness about the importance of early detection. For survivors, seeing a celebrity who has overcome the disease can provide hope.

But, some warn, the marriage of celebrities and breast cancer isn't perfect. The celebrity serving as a spokesperson must be picked carefully, say those who "have been there, done that," to be sure the message sent is that of the organization.

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