Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=101531
Story Retrieval Date: 5/25/2013 5:27:55 PM CST
Colleen M. Padia/MEDILL
Lula Gordon was not satisfied to just survive breast cancer. As the president of the community organization Sisters Embracing Life, she is determined to help educate and support women in the Austin neighborhood when it comes to the disease she defeated.
“We help pay for mammograms and transportation, we have a support group, we get together and talk about our medications,” Gordon said. “We let women know that this is not a death sentence – life goes on.”
Gordon's group and Amani-Trinity United Community Health Corporation on the South Side each got $50,000 Wednesday from the Metropolitan Chicago Breast Cancer Task Force to grow their outreach efforts. The grants are just one piece of the plan the task force has to address the drastic difference in mortality rates from breast cancer between white women and black women in Chicago. The plan was outlined at a news conference at the St. Paul Church of God in Christ on the South Side.
In 1996, black and white women in Chicago were dying of breast cancer at the same rate. Since then, improvements in screening and treatment began to increase, but those benefits were primarily felt by white women. By 2005, black women were dying at a rate 116 percent higher than white women in Chicago. That translates to 111 “excess” deaths of black women in Chicago who would survive if they were white, according to Steve Whitman, director of the Sinai Urban Health Institute and a task force member, who presented the research. He attributes the discrepancy to three reasons: lack of mammograms, lack of treatment, and the poor quality of care received by most black women.
“If mammograms are not accurate and miss cancers, then gaining access to faulty mammograms is not helpful,” Whitman said. “Even if you get a high-quality mammogram, if you can’t get into treatment then, what good is it knowing that you have breast cancer?”
Twenty-three of the 25 Chicago communities with the highest breast cancer mortality rates are predominantly black, something the task force says is an indication of lack of quality care in those areas. In an effort to improve care and access to it, the task force and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Chicagoland affiliate have been working with lawmakers to draft the “Reducing Breast Cancer Disparities Act” (HB 5192), sponsored by state Rep. Greg Harris (D-13th) and House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25th).
The bill proposes to eliminate co-pays and deductibles for breast cancer screening, establish patient navigation and reminder systems for women receiving state health coverage, ensure reimbursements for health care providers and increase the number of mammograms in underserved communities, and require insurance providers to cover pain medication and therapy for breast cancer patients. It passed the House and Senate with unanimous votes in the spring and has been re-referred to the Rules Committee.
However, money and support at a government level have little meaning without community awareness. That’s where Sisters Embracing Life and Amani come in. Amani plans to use the grant to train peer health educators, who will then canvas South Side communities to provide information on breast health, and mammogram “navigators” to identify women who need screening and help them through the process, according to Gina Curry, program director of Amani. Gordon will use the grant to expand Sisters Embracing Life to West Garfield Park.
"This is what I was meant to do, and I love it," Gordon said.