32_Ernie Bodai

Stamp Out Disease

As a doctor, Ernie Bodai has treated some 3,000 patients with breast cancer. But his most far-reaching effort to battle the disease involved marketing and design. In 1995, Bodai hit on a big idea: a postage stamp that would raise money for breast-cancer research. He lobbied for it until the Breast Cancer Research Stamp was issued in 1998. It became one of the most popular postage stamps of all time, selling more than 350 million.


Dr. Ernie Bodai
Director of Breast Surgical Services, Kaiser Hospital
Sacramento, California


What is the big idea?
Dr. Ernie Bodai’s idea was to convert a simple postage stamp into a powerful fund raising vehicle for breast cancer research, the first fund raising stamp in American history. Dr. Bodai’s dream met with tremendous resistance from Congress, the U.S. Postal Service, stamp collectors organizations, his professional medical society and even his employer, Kaiser Hospital in Sacramento CA. The Breast Cancer Research Stamp, America’s first fund raising stamp, has sold over 350 million copies, raising over $25 million for breast cancer research, now in its fourth year of issue.

What was your creative spark?
Dr. Bodai looked at the stamp on his National Institute of Health newsletter and thought,”What if SOMEONE could convince the U.S. Postal Service to issue a special fund raising stamp–that could raise millions for research–painlessly!” Dr. Bodai had linked and combined two seemingly unrelated ideas: a postage stamp and fund raising. Dr. Bodai, who has done over 2,500 mastectomies, turned his anger into creative action after discovering that the NIH was funding only 25% of the requests they received for breast cancer research.

Why is the idea so compelling?
The fund raising stamp idea is so compelling because it’s a “painless,” inexpensive and easily participatory way to raise money and awareness of breast cancer throughout the country. The idea is empowering as it allows individuals to “do something” about breast cancer research funding as it blends a commonly purchased necessity, a postage stamp, with people’s need to take helpful action.

How or why did the idea spread?
Initially, a highly publicized campaign by the U.S. Postal Service and breast cancer organizations. However, word of mouth, sustained and spread by thousands of breast cancer survivors, has pushed the stamp to becoming the best-seller of all time, exceeding sales of the Elvis Presley issue. The stamp has saved lives. Dr. Bodai has dozens of letters from women who were “reminded” by the stamp to schedule their oft-postponed mammogram, tests that revealed cancers at a stage when they could be effectively treated.