Making Sense

The complexities of health and human behavior

Sue Ann Thompson’s passionate advocacy for women’s health is rooted in family—and breast cancer. While the Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation, which the former First Lady founded, is focused on many issues with an impact on the health of Wisconsin women, it is breast cancer—her mom’s, her daughter’s and her own—that propelled her to act.

So it was particularly poignant to witness frustration percolate through Thompson’s usually optimistic personality in response to a question about prospects for a cure at our Madison Magazine Business Lunch recently. She couldn’t help wondering, she told the audience, if perhaps scientists knew the cure, but weren’t sharing it with the rest of the world yet. She quickly added that researchers were making great strides and we are likely near a point when breast cancer will be viewed as a chronic illness with many diagnosed living a full life in treatment.

But I suspect I am not alone in sharing Thompson’s curiosity about where we really stand in the fight given the millions of dollars spent in the last few decades of research. For anyone whose life is affected by breast cancer—and I believe that includes every single one of us—the pace of progress is agonizingly slow. I think we’re right to ask if there is adequate collaboration among scientists, flexibility in protocols and sense of purpose beyond ownership credit in advancing potential cures. I am not unaware that, as we begin to understand the interdisciplinary cancer studies occuring at the Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research, and welcome this year’s opening of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, that scientists among our readers may laugh—or bristle—at my hubris, or naïveté. But sometimes the news conflicts with love for a wife, mother, daughter or friend—and let’s not forget men with breast cancer—and our shared sense of confusion, urgency and fear, and it’s hard to reconcile. The lack of answers is maddening.

So we run. Or walk. Madison Magazine and our sister company WISC–TV are again sponsoring the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure on June 5 at the Alliant Energy Center, so if you read this in time you can join us by registering at The event remains one of the best opportunities we know to channel our frustrations and pain into hope and the “power to change.”

Komen participants only have to look a little northeast across John Nolen Drive to see the entry to Olin-Turville Park. How many of us drive past those magnificent acres with nary a thought? One thing’s for sure, most of us never visit the parks and probably have little idea of what goes on there. I thought I knew. But contributing writer Melanie Radzicki McManus’s thoroughly researched and comprehensive account of who uses the park and why is startling. It’s a rough read in spots, but it us ultimately infuriating that we’ve allowed this natural resource to be usurped. As usual with such a topic there is some risk. But I’m confident most will agree this is not about a crackdown on homosexual sex, but rather a call to take back a public open space. In either event, it’s a great piece of journalism. As is Madison historian, writer and civic leader Dick Wagner’s piece in our Downtown Madison, Inc. special section. Wagner’s accomplishment is nothing less than making tax incremental financing understandable. I figure if we can understand TIF we can understand the complexities of human behavior and human health, which makes this issue of Madison Magazine a lot more understandable.

Neil Heinen is editorial director of Madison Magazine.

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