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Gilda's Sister to Sister Club in Grand Rapids works to support minority women with cancer

8:41 PM, Oct 19, 2010   |    comments
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Grand Rapids, Mich. (WZZM) - While the rate of breast cancer continues to decline, there is still one group of women in need of better diagnosis and treatment.

It's a sad, but true fact, African American women have a 32% higher death rate from breast cancer than Caucasian women and Hispanic women are more frequently diagnosed at a later stage, according to National Institute of Health.

The Sister To Sister Club at Gilda's Club in Grand Rapids is trying to change those outcomes. Nobody wanted anyone to know that they had it, and it was like they would hold it as a secret. A lot of women didn't get care because they didn't want to say, 'I got cancer'.

At a discussion over coffee, members of the Sister To Sister Club remember how cancer used to be viewed in their community. Can you imagine secretly fighting breast cancer? It's something many women of color did for decades.

But the Sister To Sister Club is beginning to change that viewpoint. What the Sister To Sister calendar does, is it shows women in the community what it looks like to see someone that you know with breast cancer which is taking some of the fear away.

Women like Carolyn Butler-Williams who discovered a lump in her breast. "I was taking my shower and I felt something different and I looked down and it looked different."

Carolyn was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. "Nobody in my family ever had breast cancer until I got it. That's why I never worried about it. I was like 'well, nobody in my family ever had it,' so you really don't worry about it."

After a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, she is now a survivor, just like Juanita Gaddis. "We are women who take care of everyone else, before we take care of ourselves."

Juanita also discovered an abnormality in her breast. She was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer that was contained in her milk duct. "I now make sure my daughters know get your mammogram, but don't stop with your mammogram, examine yourself."

The women in the Sister To Sister Club admit talking about cancer is harder for minority women and they've also recognized a communication gap between doctors and the minority community when it comes to family history. "I think at a family reunion, ladies, where you have a great grandma sitting there and if you asked her the right questions or you asked some of those old aunts what happened to some of these people that died. 'How did they die? What was wrong?' I think we'd all discover we had a lot more cancer in our families."

Their hope is that through their support group they will be able to reach out to women and help them not only embrace their cancer journey but empower them in the fight against breast cancer. "I believe in your lifetime the word breast cancer will continue to diminish. I think it's already beginning to diminish."

And through their sisterhood, they believe they can beat the odds.

There are other barriers too like a lack of health insurance that contribute to the higher death rates among minority women. A recent study by the National Institute for Health found that when Caucasian, African American and Hispanic women were provided equal access to high-quality mammography screening, all groups had similar rates of breast cancer survival.


By Valerie Lego

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