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I can't pass up this opportunity in the last week of October, which is "Breast Cancer Awareness Month," to spotlight the commitment of many in the property/casualty insurance business to breast cancer research.

Every year since 1993, leaders of this industry have gathered in Chicago in the fall to present the "Spirit of Life" award to an honoree in whose name money has been raised to fund breast cancer research at City of Hope. More than $3 million was raised from 1993 through 1997.

This year's dinner, on Nov. 5, will honor Heidi Hutter, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Swiss Re America. The campaign already has set records, exceeding $700,000.

It all started in 1993, when William Bolinder, then CEO of Zurich-American Insurance Group, agreed to accept the "Spirit of Life" award and lead the effort to raise funds from the insurance industry for City of Hope. Bill announced that the proceeds of his campaign would be dedicated to breast cancer research at City of Hope.

I was among those invited by Bill to lend my name to the effort. While I knew little about City of Hope then, I had far too personal an awareness of the life-threatening disease: A very close friend had only recently been diagnosed and had undergone a mastectomy. How could I say no?

Many others could not say no to Bill either, nor to those who have followed him as "Spirit of Life" award recipients, all dedicating funds to breast cancer research.

Since 1993, I have learned much more about City of Hope and about personal fights against breast cancer.

Twice I have visited City of Hope National Medical Center and Beckman Research Institute, 25 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles. Women with breast cancer represent the largest group of patients at City of Hope, where eight out of 10 patients are treated for some type of malignant disease. And, City of Hope has made a major institutional commitment to research into prevention, early detection and treatment of breast cancer. The dedication, compassion and enthusiasm of the doctors, nurses, researchers and administrators of City of Hope have inspired every honoree who has visited this unique institution.

City of Hope also is dedicated to treating patients regardless of their ability to pay. And it is committed to treating not only the body but also the soul. With that commitment, women breast cancer patients at City of Hope are more likely than not to receive reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy, which is so important to a woman's self-image. (The new federal mandate that health plans cover the procedure and its availability communicated may increase employers' paperwork, but if it results in more women receiving proper care, it's worth it.)

I also have learned more about personal fights against breast cancer. My dear friend Rene is a survivor, as is my mother-in-law, who was stricken with breast cancer just a few years ago. The wife of a Business Insurance staffer has rebounded from the chemotherapy and autologous bone marrow transplantation she underwent last year for breast cancer. City of Hope was a pioneer in the bone marrow treatment she received.

Yet, breast cancer is estimated to strike 178,000 U.S. women this year and kill 43,500. More research into prevention, detection and treatment is needed. This has been the theme of every Insurance Council dinner in Chicago since 1993.

As Heidi says, this annual campaign is not about giving money in recognition of the honoree but for research. Scores of others in the P/C business agree, supporting campaigns in the names of people whose companies are competitors.

The companies are too many to name here, but among them are those whose leaders have been recipients of the award: Zurich-American, CNA Insurance Cos., Aon Corp., American Re-Insurance Co. and Swiss Re America.

Many in the business also make personal contributions to the annual campaign. People interested in making a contribution, or seeking more information, can contact Andrew Abrahams of the City of Hope at 847-583-8600.

It will be another inspiring evening Nov. 5, when hundreds of people gather to celebrate the "Spirit of Life" and Heidi's leadership in another successful campaign to raise money for breast cancer research.

Publisher and Editorial Director Kathryn J. McIntyre was the "Spirit of Life" honoree in 1996.