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Sisters helping sistersOrganization urges Black women to be proactive about breast cancer

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It’s time to raise awareness about breast cancer in the Black community and The Sisters Network Inc. plans to be the one to do just that.

The Sisters Network Inc. is an organization whose purpose is to save lives and provide a broader scope of knowledge that addresses the breast cancer survivorship crisis affecting African-American women around the country.

The Sisters Network Inc. was founded in 1994 by Karen E. Jackson after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It is the only national African-American breast cancer survivorship organization in the U.S. Since its founding date the Sisters Network is represented in 22 states and through 43 affiliate chapters including one in Indianapolis.

“Our mission is to increase local and national attention to the devastating impact that breast cancer has in the African-American community,” says Addie Smith, founder and president of the Indianapolis chapter of the Sisters Network Inc. “We are trying to reach out to the African-American community to let women know they have to be proactive.”

A recent report revealed breast cancer occurs more in white women than Black women, but kills more Black women than white women. According to the American Cancer Society, it is estimated that 6,000 African-American women will die from breast cancer this year.

Yolanda Wide, community program representative for the American Cancer Society, says even though Black women have a 10 percent lower incident rate than white women for breast cancer, they are often diagnosed at a later stage. Being diagnosed at a later stage decreases the survival rate.

“It (breast cancer) is most treatable when it is caught early,” said Wide. “Early detection saves lives.”

Smith agrees. Unfortunately, she was diagnosed in the second stage of breast cancer a few years ago. She admits she was not proactive prior to her diagnosis. As she was going through treatment, she wanted to be able to give something back and didn’t want the same thing to happen to other women.

“I wasn’t doing self breast exams because I didn’t think it would happen to me,” said Smith. “One of the things that I saw with Sisters Network is that they are trying to reach the Black community so women won’t turn out like me – not knowledgeable about breast cancer.”

According to the National Women’s Health Center, since African-American women are often caught in later stages, there tends to be fewer treatment options. Reasons could be no adequate healthcare, no mammograms or no insurance.

Toni Burts, vice president of the Indianapolis chapter of the Sisters Network Inc., believes there are a lot of disparities that have to do with African-American women not being knowledgeable about breast health.

“It’s the economics and the environment,” said Burts. “Oftentimes we are doing so much for everybody else, we don’t have the time or we are a little scared to go to the doctor.”

Wide says African-American women are not living as long because they “just wait” to go to the doctor. Fact is you can have a pea size lump in your breast for sometime and not be aware it’s there.

As a response to the lack of breast health education and Black women losing the fight to breast cancer, the Sisters Network Inc. is the leading voice in Black communities urging women to become more aware of their bodies.

The Sisters Network Inc. provides standardize outreach programs such as support groups, breast health education and community outreach through forums, monthly meetings and community events.

“We are here and we just really want to get the word out that breast cancer is affecting our African-American women at a higher rate,” said Burts. “A lot of African-American women are dying, and we don’t have to.”

October is breast cancer awareness month and this month the Sisters Network will host its Gift for Life Block Walk as well as the Pink Ribbon Awareness Initiative, an educational outreach program that reaches women in the church with information on how to access breast care services and resources.

The Sisters Network hosts monthly meetings at Glendale Library Branch every third Monday from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. The meetings feature doctors sharing information about breast cancer as well as testimonials from survivors.

“It’s for all ages,” said Smith. “Women are just meeting each other and being able to share and talk about what they go through with breast cancer.”

For more information about the Sisters Network Inc., call the 24-hour line at (317) 823-1466 or visit www.sistersnetworkinc.org.

Did you know?

One in seven women will develop breast cancer in her life.

The five-year survival rate for breast cancer is 98 percent among individuals whose cancer has not spread beyond the breast at time of diagnosis.

Screening Guidelines for mammograms

Yearly mammograms are recommended beginning at age 40. A clinical breast exam should be part of periodic health exams about every three years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women age 40 and older.

Women should know how their breast normally look and feel and report any breast change promptly to their health care providers.

The American Cancer Society recommends that women at increased risk for beast cancer because of their family history, a genetic tendency or other factors, be screened with magnetic resonance imaging in addition to mammograms.

The ACS provides women with a Mammography Guide. This tool helps women make informed decisions about mammography and compares screening facilities on such factors as self-referral, quality assurance guidelines, extended hours and wait time.

For more information call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 or visit www.cancer.org.

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