1. Osterlund, Hob MS, RN, CHTP

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As executive director of the San Francisco-based Breast Cancer Fund (BCF), Jeanne Rizzo, RN, sees her role in nursing as an advocate for women's health around the world. She's a bit busy, what with a few billion patients, but she's not complaining. And, she's more likely to describe herself as a producer than a nurse.


In fact, music production was her second career; her first was psychiatric nursing. While Rizzo was president of the Student Nurses Association of New York, she attended a National Student Nurses Association Convention in San Francisco and fell in love with the Bay Area. After graduating from Grasslands Hospital School of Nursing in Valhalla, New York, Rizzo moved to California in 1971. While she was head nurse at Marin General Hospital's inpatient psychiatric unit, she and her then-husband opened San Francisco's Great American Music Hall (GAMH). While she had intended to stay in nursing and pursue an advanced degree, she also loved music. For two years she continued to work as a nurse by day and to manage the GAMH on nights and weekends. Eventually, she had to make a choice and decided to pursue music management full time in 1974, running the GAMH until 1992.


In 1991 Rizzo launched JR Productions, which managed artists and coordinated concert tours as well as film and theatre production.


Her relationship with the BCF began in 1997, when she was asked by Andrea Martin, BCF's founder, to produce a benefit for the organization. After taking the BCF on a fundraising tour with the traveling music festival Lilith Fair, Rizzo produced Climb Against the Odds, a film about an expedition up 20,320-foot Mt. McKinley in Alaska, North America's highest mountain. Five of the 12 women climbers had survived breast cancer. And because of Rizzo's music connections, the film featured a soundtrack by performers such as k. d.lang, Sweet Honey in the Rock, and the Indigo Girls.


When Martin died in 2001, Rizzo assumed the role of executive director of the BCF. Leading the only national nonprofit organization that focuses exclusively on eliminating the environmental and other preventable causes of breast cancer, she knew her job would require passion and creativity. Her production background was exactly what was needed.


"I left my nursing practice to be involved in music, theater, and film. I've always looked for voices that needed to be heard, to bring people together for causes," she says. "I believe in helping artists use their celebrity in service to others."


The transition from producer to executive director was not difficult. "I've always been interested in art and social change," Rizzo says. Having produced-and received a 1994 Tony nomination for-Anna Deveare Smith's Broadway play Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, she found that such events gave her experience in bringing together disparate groups of people. "I had done some pro bono events that gave me a chance to communicate with young people. When I could find music with lyrics and tempo and heart that could communicate a story, something very powerful and compelling happened," she says.


She also had been prepared for her new role by Climb Against the Odds. The documentary, she says, gave her the "metaphor of the mountain, doing it as a team, well-guided, roped into each other, one step at a time, how a task can feel insurmountable."


The BCF's mission must sometimes feel just that arduous. Every year it publishes State of the Evidence: What is the Connection Between the Environment and Breast Cancer? As there are too many toxins to tackle individually, the BCF lobbies the California legislature to track dozens of the most damaging. They also have specifically targeted personal care products, working in coalition with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.


The cosmetics industry is an obvious focus for the BCF. "You see a pink ribbon on every other personal care product in October," Rizzo says. "Estee Lauder, Avon, Revlon-they all identify themselves as advocates for finding a cure for breast cancer."


Rizzo is encouraged by new laws from the European Union (EU). "The 'Green Chemistry' movement in Europe is very strong. We want to adopt something like their Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH) Initiative." The EU has banned carcinogens, mutagens, and reproductive toxins from all cosmetics. Interestingly, some companies formulate cosmetics for the EU differently, without certain chemicals, than they do for the United States. The BCF is working to change that.


"We were able to pass the California Safe Cosmetics Act of 2005, which requires cosmetics companies to report all their ingredients to the department of health. They can't just say 'fragrance' anymore." The BCF ran a series of advertisements, and Revlon committed to removing phthalates from their compounds. Now more than 350 companies, including The Body Shop, have signed a compact to go beyond the new EU standards.


"Among the chemicals of greatest concern linked to breast cancer are the endocrine disruptors," Rizzo says. "Look at hormone replacement therapy. It's promoted like crazy. They say 'you don't want to be hot flashing all over your corporate suit."


Rizzo and the BCF led the effort to pass the California Radiation Exposure Information Act of 2005. "For a while whole-body scans were everywhere. People were getting them 'just because.' For people not to understand the impact of ionizing radiation and toxic chemicals cannot continue."


Rizzo credits the American Nurses Association for its recent resolution to endorse the campaign for safe cosmetics and to identify itself as an essential partner with Health Care Without Harm and Hospitals for a Healthy Environment.


Toxins have an impact on countless aspects of health, not just cancer. But Rizzo feels that "breast cancer provides an opportunity to talk about a lot of other environmental health conditions." She maintains that removing the potential culprits of breast cancer may also have a significant impact on fertility, learning disabilities, and neurologic conditions.


Rizzo, who lives with her domestic partner Pali Cooper and has a 27-year-old son in graduate school at the Art Institute in Chicago, says of her work: "The sheer beauty and magnificence of life on this planet-if we can stand in that beauty, we can leave it better for those who come after."


Hob Osterlund, MS, RN, CHTP

Figure. Says Jeanne ... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Says Jeanne Rizzo, RN, executive director of the Breast Cancer Fund, "The sheer beauty and magnificence of life on this planet-if we can stand in that beauty, we can leave it better for those who come after."