Breast cancer awareness month was the topic of discussion during this week’s episode of Upfront with Jesse Jackson. This year, it is estimated that there will be over 192,000 new cases of breast cancer among women and over 40,000 deaths. Only lung cancer accounts for more cancer deaths in women.
Joining Rev. Jackson were Dr. Damon Arnold, director for the Illinois Department of Public Health; Beverly Gavin, president of the Sisters Network, Chicago Chapter and 13-year breast cancer survivor; Angela Walker, secretary of the Sisters Network and three year breast cancer survivor; Margaret Kirk, president and CEO of the Breast Cancer Network of Strength; Ken Bedford, founder of Anaia’s Breast Cancer Awareness Program; Dorothy Warren, Your Shoes peer counselor and 12-year breast cancer survivor; and Christina Koeng, director of communications and media relations for the Breast Cancer Network of Strength and eight-year breast cancer survivor.
“I found my lump on my own,” Gavin explained. “I wasn’t getting my mammograms. I saw some dimpling and a dark spot on by breast. I was devastated. As soon as I noticed the difference in my breast, I went in to seek medicinal attention. I thought I was going to die in a few days.”
Studies show breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis among African American women and among women nationwide. Studies have also shown that when African American women follow the same preventive measures as white women, their death rates from breast cancer are very similar. However, African American women are more likely than white women to be diagnosed at later stages of the disease and are more likely to die from it.
Walker, 37, and the youngest survivor to weigh in, stated, “I was 34-years old when I found a lump in my armpit. Both of my parents died of cancer. My dad died of lung cancer and my mother died of breast cancer. I just started a new job and I wasn’t paying attention to my body. I was really tired all of the time but I thought it was just from work.”
The Network of Strength is working to educate women about the disease. The national nonprofit organization facilitates the country’s only 24/7 toll free hotline staffed exclusively by trained peer counselors who are breast cancer survivors.
“When I was told I had a lump I was horrified,” said Warren. I thought I was going to die. But I called the 24-hour service line. They told me you can make it. I knew about the medical support but I needed the emotional support.”
Kirk, president and CEO of the organization added, “We try and take the fear away and replace it with facts. When you call in to that service line you know you are talking to someone who has been in your shoes.”
“My father died of prostate cancer and when I was diagnosed with the disease I immediately called my twin brother,” he stated. “He had the disease as well. By delaying the diagnosis you only make things worse.”
Rev. Jackson then asked the panelists how much their treatment cost.
“I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know how much it cost,” said Koenig. “I was a single working mom but fortunately I had great health insurance. All of my costs were covered.”
A lack of health insurance is associated with lower survival among breast cancer patients. Typically, breast cancer patients from lower-income areas have lower 5-year relative survival rates than those from higher income areas at every stage of diagnosis.
Bedford, whose wife Anaia died of breast cancer in 2004, added a unique perspective on raising awareness about the disease and explained that his organization is working to provide mammograms to women in low income communities.
“We are taking our program into shelters,” he said. “We are targeting women who live in Englewood and Woodlawn.”
Upfront airs every Saturday at 9 p.m. CST on the WORD Network.
The Rainbow PUSH Coalition is a progressive organization devoted to protecting, defending and expanding civil rights to improve economic and educational opportunity. The organization is headquartered at 930 E. 50th St. in Chicago. To learn more, please visit http://www.rainbowpush.org or call (773) 373-3366. To arrange an interview with Rev. Jackson, please call the numbers listed above. -30-