FunTimes Friday: Breast Cancer Survivor Shout Out RecapOct 21, 2020 02:01PM ● By Nana Ama Addo
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. To honor the survivors, lives lost and people affected by the disease, on October 16th, 2020, FunTimes themed it's FunTimes Friday event ‘Breast Cancer Survivor Shout Out.’ This event was hosted by Reverend Dr. Lorina Marshall-Blake, the President of the Independence Blue Cross Foundation, who engaged panelists Armenta L. Washington, Research Coordinator Senior at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center, Kelsey Spielman, Licensed Genetic Center at the Basser Center for BRCA at Penn Medicine and Co-Founders of Breast Cancer nonprofit ‘Praise is the Cure’ Anita T. Connor and Kerri Connor Matchett.
Dr. Lorina , who is a 17 year breast cancer survivor, encourages audiences to take charge of their health, as breast cancer is the most common cancer among African American women. In addition, she notes that African American women are more likely to die from Breast cancer than White women, it is possible to develop breast cancer even if it does not run in your family and that breast cancer can be present in the body without a lump in the breast.
Anita, a 22 year breast cancer survivor, was diagnosed with an advanced stage when people were not really talking about the disease. Because of her experience, and seeing a lack of resources for Black women’s awareness, 15 years ago she and her daughter Kerri created Praise is The Cure, with the mission to eliminate breast cancer disparities among Black women with her daughter. Kerri, Anita’s daughter, was diagnosed with an aggressive and advanced stage of breast cancer at the age of 33, on her mother's 10 year anniversary of diagnosis. 9 years after her original diagnosis she was diagnosed again with metastatic cancer, meaning cancer spread to different parts of the body. “Young Black women are really getting hit hard with metastatic breast cancer,” says Kerri. Through their nonprofit they encourage women to be proactive and help women with little or no insurance, in addition to hosting events, giving referrals, care packages, education and events. Kerri shares a truth with the audience: “Every patient needs an advocate.” She wrote a book called ‘My Mommy has Breast Cancer but she is okay,’ to provide Black daughters or mothers with encouragement and inspiration.
Kelsey says most cancers are sporadic and spurred by natural aging processes, environmental and lifestyle factors, and that 10% of breast cancers are genetic. She tells audiences that BRCA1 and BRCA2 are the two inherited breast cancer genes. BRCA functions to protect the body from cancer. If there is a mutation in the breast cancer gene, a person is at a higher risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime.
Dr. Araminta says it is so important to know one’s family history and share information relating to common diseases when the family comes together, like holidays. She also encourages African Americans to participate in cancer research, through clinical trials, which are research tests that exist to help find the cures for cancer. People can also donate samples of blood, urine, blood, tissue, breast milk, cells or protein from the body for research. “You don't have to be sick to donate,” she tells audiences. She also says there is public health distrust within African American communities due to historical memory. This is why humanitarian organizations like Praise is The Cure go into communities to educate them. The ‘Healthy Women’ program for free pap smears and mammograms is an option for PA women who have little to no insurance. Dr. Araminta offers her help in connecting those in need with those who orchestrate the registration at Penn. Federally qualified health centers, health centers through the health department also help uninsured people and special care, says Dr. Araminta.
The speakers also highlighted that breast cancer is not a death sentence, and that men are also vulnerable to the disease. All of the panelists and the host vehemently encourages everyone to take their mammogram evaluations by any means necessary!
Thank you to these wonderful ladies for sharing your stories, advice and hope with us. The battle continues. You can check out the Basser website here, visit Praise is The Cure here and connect with Dr. Armenta through the Abramson center here.