October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and citizens are working hard to raise the profile of the disease.
Founded in 1985, charities like the American Cancer Society and Keep a Breast Foundation host yearly events informing women on how to prevent the progression of the disease to save more lives. Based on a survey by the National Cancer Institute, over 40,000 deaths are estimated to occur with breast cancer being the cause.
African American women have a higher chance of dying from the disease than white women by 40 percent. Many Harlem residents are unaware of these statistics. In efforts to change this statistic, the cancer treatment center Memorial Sloan Kettering established an outreach program right in the heart of Harlem. The Breast Examination Center of Harlem, located inside of the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building on West 125th Street, offers free mammograms to the community. Despite this available resource, residents are not taking advantage of them.
“I didn’t know they had one around here, and I’m due for one,” said Kathy, 56, a local resident. She was not alone.
Rachelle, 32, is a beauty supply sales associate at the Apollo Hair Center which is located just across the street from the State Building and the Breast Examination Center.
“I am not aware and I’ve been here for 6 months,” she said slightly shocked.
African-American women and breast cancer
- African-American women are diagnosed with more advanced breast cancers and have worse survival than white women
- The median age at diagnosis for African-American women is 59, compared to 63 for white women
- Triple negative breast cancers are more common among African-American women than among women of other ethnicities
A reason for the lack of awareness of the center is the failure to approach and discuss the disease. Ashley Reynolds, student at The City College of New York, found difficulty in sharing her family’s story. Ashley’s mother is part of the 89 percent of women who have survived breast cancer. Like those who refuse to seek information and awareness, Ashley’s family neglected to inform themselves on the illness and its prevention.
“Luckily we were able to catch it early. Breast cancer is not something that runs in our family; we ignored learning all of the preventative measures to fully check for signs,” Ashley said.
Mike Evans, another student who’s been affected by breast cancer also said his cousin, Stephanie who fell victim the disease at the age of 27, failed to take proper precautions in being aware and getting checked.
“She was only 27 years old and didn’t take any measures to stop it earlier. By the time she got help about it, there was not much help she could have received from any doctor Said Evans.
Medical personnel and local merchants believe it’s a lack on the part of the people who fail to inform themselves on the matter. 55-year-old Beverly Thomas, Administrative assistant at the Visiting Nurse Service Comprehensive Care Management Office, believes local organizations do enough to inform the community on the aggressiveness of this disease. Along with other organizations over the summer, Visiting Nurse Service parked a health truck on Lenox Avenue informing locals on breast cancer and prevention.
“People have different goals. I receive more people looking for medicine rather health and wellness information,” she said.
Harlem street merchant Shirley Jones believes commercial businesses and organizations can do more to inform customers, but that it’s also an act of ignorance on the part of the people. She noted that resources are available and it is up to locals to go take advantage of what’s provided for them.
“They should promote clients with flyers and put up information instead of these ridiculous billboards,” said Jones recalling to a commercial ad hanging a top of the Planet Fitness Gym on West 125th Street.
Judging from responses, The Breast Examination Center of Harlem are lacking in promotions and informing the community of their services. Some locals like merchant Patt Holloway, 60 year-old local West 125th merchant travels downtown for her yearly screenings.
“Every year never fails. You gotta be aware…it’s a killer,” she said with urgency and warning in her voice.
One in 10 women will be or have already been diagnosed with breast cancer. Many fail to seek the available resources provided by their community. Women ages 40 and up are encouraged to get their yearly mammogram checks. Alternative preventive steps are also provided online with the home self-check.