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Monday, May 17, 2021

You are not alone

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It is hard going through things alone, especially when it’s breast cancer. The Pink Ribbon Connection serves as that support system for those who have breast cancer and their families.

“No one should face breast cancer alone. We provide that psycho-social support for breast cancer patients,” said Dori Sparks-Unsworth, the program’s executive director.

Opening its doors in 2006, Pink Ribbon Connection offers information and resources to patients.

Programs include the patient resource packet that provides resources throughout a cancer patient’s journey; a monthly Pink Letter, that keeps patients plugged into the latest news and events; and support services for the medically underserved among others.

One of their most important programs is the peer counseling help-line where patients call and are connected with a breast cancer survivor.

Patients are matched based on similarities and have a “buddy” throughout their treatment.

Sparks-Unsworth said that despite the large scope of breast cancer awareness efforts and organizations, believe it or not, many women don’t have a shoulder to lean on during their battle with breast cancer.

But before women even need the support, many are not having mammograms – one of the key tools to detecting and treating breast cancer early. Black women are major culprits among women not getting the necessary care.

“In breast cancer, African-American women have a higher mortality rate while Caucasian women have a higher incident rate. That is because a lot of Black women have health disparity issues. They are usually diagnosed at a later stage because of these issues,” said Rivienne Shedd-Steele, director for the office of health disparities and outreach at the IU Simon Cancer Center.

Health disparities Black women endure include fear, not being able to “afford to be sick,” lack of insurance, environmental issues or not being educated enough to get an annual mammogram.

“If you’ve got five kids, aren’t working, have a house note and you find out you have cancer and now have to have surgery – oftentimes women will not come back for treatment,” said Shedd-Steele.

She also said many Black women live in urban areas that offer little to no healthy eating options or opportunities to exercise. Cultural factors include basic attitudes towards breast cancer and myths and wives tales.

Furthermore, it is more imperative that Black women get mammograms and work diligently to overcome these disparities because Blacks get a more aggressive type of breast cancer called triple negative breast cancer.

“It’s a subset of breast cancer. The cancer cells lack (certain) receptors. Triple negative breast cancer is not a death sentence, but is a little more difficult to treat,” said Monet Williams Bowling, assistant professor of surgery and director of breast services at Wishard Health Services.

Bowling went on to say that breast cancer care has become more directed and specific. There’s also more research and clinical trials where Blacks are gravely needed. If there are people who have a particular subset of cancer, clinical trials lead to better care.

“We had a workshop for Black women where we discussed clinical trials and attacked some of the myths. A lot of women brought up Tuskegee and said the biggest factor is a fear factor,” said Sparks-Unsworth.

Bowling understands historical fears, but believes the entire population should be represented for appropriate therapy. Participants can also opt out of the therapy if necessary.

The good news is that breast cancer diagnosis is going up due to an increase in early detection mammograms. According to Ozioma News Service, in Indiana more than 78 percent of African-American breast cancer survivors are living five years or more after being diagnosed. Through better screening and treatment, Black women are surviving breast cancer at almost twice the rate they were a generation ago.

Early detection through mammograms is key and women are also encouraged to know their family medical history and despite conflicting information, do monthly self breast exams and follow the Academy of Radiology in getting mammograms beginning at age 40.

“We suggest women follow their physician’s recommendation and be knowledgeable enough to make an informed decision,” said Shedd-Steele.

Furthermore, the National Cancer Institute recommends women quit smoking, cut down on alcohol, eat well and exercise.

The Pink Ribbon Connection, a nonprofit organization, wants to remind women that breast cancer knows no income level, ethnicity, education level – it is something that 1 in 8 women are getting and women should remain proactive regarding their health.

In addition to the Pink Ribbon Connection, there are plenty of resources out there for women to seek help such as the Little Red Door, the Embrace Program at Wishard Hospital, and free screenings at local health fairs.

“There are so many resources now. It’s no longer acceptable to say you don’t have a ride somewhere or can’t afford to get treatment,” said Bowling.

To further spread the message of early detection and available resources for patients, Pink Ribbon Connection will be hosting the Stars of Pink fashion show and luncheon Oct. 9 at the Indianapolis Marriott downtown. The Central Indiana organization also has a calendar that celebrates the beauty of breast cancer survivors that are $20 and can be found at Borders Book Stores and Karma Records.

For more information, call (317) 663-8750 or visit www.pinkribbonconnection.org; Little Red Door Cancer Agency, (317) 925-5595 or visit www.Littlereddoor.org; Wishard’s Embrace Program at (317) 630-7008 or visit www.wishard.edu.

You can email comments to Jessica Williams-Gibson at Jessica-recorder@indy.rr.com.

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