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Health

Komen has global reach, local impact

Yvonne Davila supported friends who were dealing with breast cancer, used checks decorated with pink ribbons and walked in several events to raise money for breast cancer research.

But two years ago, when Davila found a lump in her own breast, she was without health insurance and afraid to schedule a checkup because she worried a cancer diagnosis would financially ruin her.

Then the Chicago woman heard Sandy Goldberg speak at a breast cancer walk.

Goldberg founded The Silver Lining Foundation, which offers access to mammograms for underinsured and uninsured women through its "Buy a Mom a Mammogram" program, one of dozens of Chicago-area programs receiving grants from the nonprofit Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Davila called Goldberg a few days later, and she saw a doctor in June. By August, she had had a partial mastectomy, and is now cancer-free.

"There is help out there, but I didn't know," said Davila, a 52-year-old mother of three. "Don't let it go unchecked. I didn't have to have half of my breast gone."

Komen's Chicago affiliate raised $3.4 million last year. Of the net proceeds, 75 percent went to Chicagoland groups, hospitals and clinics for screening, treatment and outreach. The other 25 percent is allocated to Komen's global research grant programs.

When someone in the Chicago area buys that bagel attends a gala, or walks in a fundraising walk that supports Komen Chicago, the money supports neighbors in many ways.

One grant enables Ofelia Figueroa to visit laundromats, schools, churches and food banks to talk with low-income Latina women and connect them with health services.

Figueroa, who works for Centro de Salud Esperanza, said that in one three-month period this year, she spoke to 1,300 women.

Some of them have misconceptions about breast cancer or mammograms that she tries to clear up, she said. Other times they simply need help getting to a clinic because they don't have insurance or a primary doctor who can provide them with a referral. Once they are in the clinic's system, she follows up with them later to make sure they return.

"The (October) campaign helps, especially with awareness, in younger women," Figueroa said. "But it's doing the legwork that's the important part."

Some other ways local people benefit:

•Komen provides grants to the Chicago chapter of Bright Pink, a group aimed at empowering young women to be proactive about their health.

Latonia Baker found the group after her mother died of breast cancer and she was wrestling with her doctor's recommendation that she be tested for the gene mutation associated with the disease. Baker was 37, just a year younger than her mother had been when her cancer was diagnosed.

While Baker decided whether to undergo the test, she attended Bright Pink's support groups for women with the gene mutation. Instead of a clinical-style meeting where everyone sat in a circle, the support groups were centered on an activity, such as a self-defense class, yoga or brunch, she said.

Baker ultimately tested negative, but was so affected by her experiences with the Bright Pink women that she continues to volunteer with the organization.

The way that breast cancer is viewed now is completely different from when her mother was first diagnosed, said Baker, of Streamwood. "If something like Bright Pink had existed for my mom, she would have been so happy to be involved," she said.

Bright Pink also funds one-on-one workshops and is in the beginning stages of a training program for medical residents on how to address younger patients who are concerned about breast cancer.

•Komen gave $68,000 to the Asian Health Coalition for its outreach to Chicago's South Asian and Muslim American communities about breast and cervical cancer. The coalition joins with community health workers to educate women about breast health. Workers take the message everywhere from doctors' offices to mosques and temples in hopes of breaking down cultural barriers that can keep a woman from feeling comfortable seeking a mammogram, such as ensuring that they can see a female provider.

•For Tammy Pruitt-Danko, a nurse with the Visiting Nurse Association of Fox Valley, a grant from Komen provides additional funds to provide mammograms to women older than 40 or younger women if they have a family history of breast cancer. She said the clinic had to add extra shifts this month because the campaign reminds women that it's time for their annual exam. The clinic also offers a health fair this month aimed at low-income women.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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