By Mea Foster
NCCU Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE
Survivors, supporters and sisters gathered for the breast cancer month kick-off at Antioch Baptist Church in NECD, early Saturday, Oct 6.
The pink ribbons, shoes, and shirts were present as women, and even a few men gathered in an effort to raise community awareness of breast cancer, which can be preventable.
Cancer is not a death sentence, if you detect it early enough.
“It all revolves around fear,” said Dr. Nadine Barrett, Director of Health and Equity at the Duke Cancer Institute. “Many women feel that cancer diagnosis equals death.”
She feels that sometimes women of color express themselves inconsistently.
“We will talk with our friends, share opinions and be adamant about them, but when we step into that doctor’s office, we’re powerless, and that is the most important time to be powerful,” said Barrett. “Take control of your health.”
“We have to move from information to action. Action means getting screened, it means talking to your provider, we are our own ambassadors, so when you meet with your doctor, you have a right to ask: what does this mean for me? Is it time for me to get a Mammogram? Ask specific questions, that appointment is yours, not the doctor’s,” said Barrett.
Barrett says that if women are supposed to get screen at 40, then they should do it. If they are 20-39, they still need to have clinical breast exams.
“If you are age 40 and above, get a mammogram, and if you are at risk, meaning your mom, aunt or sister has it, get screened earlier,” said Barrett.
Breast cancer mortality is 41 percent higher in African American women than Caucasian women.
Caucasian women are more likely to get breast cancer than African American women, however, African American women are more likely to die from it. One of the main reasons is because many African American women get diagnosed at a later stage, and will not go to the doctor until they have symptoms.
According to statistics from the Susan G. Komen Foundation, breast cancer is the most common cancer among African American women. It is also the second leading cause of cancer death among African American women, exceeded only by lung cancer.
“This is not just a public statement,” said the Rev. Dr. Michael Page, County Commissioner and Senior Pastor. “This is an effort we got behind, within our congregation, within our four walls, within the community for people who suffer everyday.”
“When I was seventeen, one of my classmates was diagnosed with breast cancer, I went on to college, and she passed away,” said Page. “But with dignity, I just remember her today along with many others, including my sister-in-law, who passed as well.”
During the event, doves and balloons were released as a reflection moment for people who have passed from breast cancer. The volunteers and supporters mentioned the importance of support groups and community efforts such as The Sister Network Triangle.
The Sister Network Triangle, A National African American Breast Cancer Survivorship Organization also partner-shipped with Antioch Baptist Church, to help with the pink effort.
“Our organization is a sisterhood. We have driven women to chemotherapy, supported people with no insurance, sometimes even provided compression sleeves and special bras and financial assistance for parking at the hospital,” said Priscilla Lewis, Chairman of the Wellness Committee, and six-year breast cancer survivor.
“There are women with family, who are still not truly supported, and that’s where we come in. We try to match-up women with similar diagnosis to talk about their experiences; from chemo, to nutrition to even make-up and hair,” said Lewis.
“It’s always nice to sit around the table with your sisters and be spiritually uplifted and supported,” said Dean Jeffries Johnson, Vice President of Sisters Network Triangle.
The event was also filled with stories of triumph, survival and faith including Minister Valerie Willoughby, 31-year cancer survivor, or as she likes to say, “Thirty-one years of thriving after cancer.”
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 30 years old. In 1980, when I was first diagnosed, a lumpectomy was an experiment. There were no other treatments for breast cancer, except for mastectomy.”
A mastectomy is the complete removal of partial or the whole breast, whereas a lumpectomy is designed to remove a discrete lump, usually a benign tumor or breast cancer, from an affected male or females’ breast.
Willoughby explained that she had taken part in an experiment done by the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. They needed 20 women who were diagnosed with breast cancer to undergo that procedure. She was the youngest women. It was successful and now lumpectomies and available to all women.
“I’m glad that God used me as a vessel back then so that women now can have that option,” said Willoughby. “Let the fear of having something drive you to the doctors, not away from it.”
No affiliation to breast cancer is required to be an advocate or volunteer.
“I have my own health issues, but I’m a supporter, and I really wish more people would get involved with just being that, a supporter,” said Judy Wallace Willis, Sisters Network Triangle advocate. “They don’t have to be affected by breast cancer or know someone with breast cancer. They just need to get involved.”
For people who are uninsured, visit the Lincoln Community Health Center online http://www.lincolnchc.org/ , or The N.C. Health Department online http://www.ncdhhs.gov/ to find out more information about health care options.
“For me my commitment is making sure our people get access to services,” said Barrett. “That’s my driving force: how can I address health disparities? And cancer happens to be the place where I work in this area to do it.”