Turning a Family Tragedy into a Political Passion

European Parliament Member Emma McClarkin has made equal access to high-quality care for breast cancer patients across the European Union a top priority.

The personal is political, as the saying goes. That is certainly the case for Emma McClarkin, Member of the European Parliament for the East Midlands region for the Conservative Party in England. The 37 year-old politician’s mother passed away from breast cancer at age 48. Elected to the European Parliament in 2009, Ms. McClarkin is determined to use her position to improve conditions for breast-cancer patients across Europe. "Everybody has a role to play in advancing this issue," said Ms McClarkin in an interview. "I’m lucky that I’m in a position where I can try to ensure breast-cancer issues in Europe have a platform and cannot be forgotten."

Ms. McClarkin co-authored the European Parliament’s Written Declaration on the Fight Against Breast Cancer, which was adopted in August 2015. Recognizing that over 361,000 women in the European Union are diagnosed with breast cancer each year and that 91,000 die from the disease annually, the declaration calls for European member states to implement nationwide breast screening, provide multidisciplinary specialist breast units, and ensure that women with metastatic breast cancer have access to and are treated in those units. Ensuring a uniform standard of high-quality care across the European Union is a particular focus for Ms. McClarkin: "We need to set the bar high. In every EU member state there at least has to be a specialist breast-cancer unit that understands every aspect of the disease. We’re going to keep putting this on the agenda, to ensure Europeans everywhere have access to the same level of care."

Noting that 30 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer go on to develop an advanced form of the disease, Ms. McClarkin is particularly passionate about improving the lives of metastatic breast-cancer patients. In 2014, she hosted a roundtable discussion on the topic at the European Parliament with MEPs from across the political spectrum, as well as representatives from EU and national patient groups, medical societies, and public-interest groups. "People focus on breast-cancer prevention and on the search for a cure, which they absolutely should," says Ms. McClarkin. "But women with metastatic breast cancer are an essential part of the full gambit of breast cancer and they feel forgotten." The roundtable’s call to action urged policymakers to ensure that breast-cancer policies specifically address MBC issues, to establish multidisciplinary breast centers specialized in identifying and meeting the needs of MBC patients, and to support research into advanced breast-cancer issues. "Many of these women feel that they have become their disease," says Ms McClarkin. "We have a responsibility to ensure that they continue to be seen as women, mothers, employees and community members, as people who have something valuable to give back. This is their time."