FIGHT WITH FACTS Education empowers women


Another "To Your Health" article misstated the name of the Komen Foundation, a Washington-based organization that raises money for cancer research and education.

The Sun regrets the errors.

The American Cancer Society says one in nine women develop breast cancer during their lifetime.

Zora Brown was a "one."

So was her great-grandmother. And her grandmother and her mother. Each of her three sisters was a "one," too.

But by educating women about detection and treatment of breast cancer, Zora Brown hopes to help others stay healthy.

"We have to get back to the basics of talking to each other, you know, like sitting-around-the-kitchen-table or on-the-back-porch kind of talking about this issue," said Ms. Brown, 42, who founded the Breast Cancer Resource Committee in Washington, that teaches women about detection and treatment of breast cancer. "Women should arm themselves with the necessary information."

If it sounds like she's waging a war against this disease, then her words are coming through loud and clear. Ms. Brown, director of public relations for Broadcast Capital Investment Fund, Inc., a small business investment company in Washington, believes there is not a more compelling issue facing American women -- especially black women, on whom she has focused much of her attention.

"Black women have the highest mortality rate from cancer in the country," Ms. Brown said. "We takeour message to the the lower income communities in Washington because they have less access to the information than other women."

One way of putting across that message is through churches, and Ms. Brown was in Baltimore last month to talk with the 5,000-plus women at the 12th quadrennial convention of the Women's Missionary Society, an international women's group that is part of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

"I just wanted my message to say, 'Yes, you can live through this,' " said Ms. Brown. "I challenged the group to take the issue into their cause."

Ms. Brown also was a technical advisor for a made-for-TV drama, "Mammography, Once a Year For a Lifetime," that aired on some NBC stations last fall. She's been involved in the Kome Foundation's "Race For the Cure," a 5-kilometer marathon to benefit cancer research and education held for the past two years in Washington.

Activism has become almost apart of her daily regimen.

"It's important for women to know about this, since so many of us are dying at such an alarming rate," she said. According to the Cancer Society, nearly 45,000 American women are expected to die of breast cancer this year: "It's almost reached epidemic proportions," she said.

As a child growing up in Oklahoma City, Ms. Brown watched as her mother and older sisters fought the disease. "We were very fortunate that we had a mom who would talk to us about it," she said. "Understanding your body is what is most important. We would talk openly about breast cancer."

She, too, took up the fight after being diagnosed with a precancerous condition when she was 22.

"The doctor suggested I have the tissue removed from my breast. But at a time when I was young and felt I had just gotten my breasts, that thought was not very appealing."

Ten years later, she found a pin-sized lump in her breast. "I had many options," she said, "but decided a modified mastectomy would give me the best chance for survival."

And Zora Brown comes from a long list of survivors. Her grandmother lived to 94 and her mother is 76. She has pursued the challenge of educating women about the importance of mammograms and breast self-examination with the determination of her sister and mentor, Belva Brissette, who died of the breast cancer in December.

"Even though her prognosis was not good, she had a generous will to give to others. She crusaded with me until she couldn't anymore. I figured if she could do what she was doing, I could do it as well."

And Ms. Brown continued what she and her sister had begun, taking her message to church basements throughout the Washington area. She is planning a luncheon for Sept. 28, "to put out a call to all social and service organizations asking them to put breast cancer at the top of their agendas, to make it a national issue.

"The information needs to get out," she said. "Then we will be able to close in on a cure or at least have more survivors of the disease."

She doesn't want to see any more women become "one" of the numbers.

"People have to realize this disease does not know whether you are economically secure or poor. It doesn't discriminate," said Ms. Brown.

"It has no boundaries, but it can be controlled. Early detection is the best chance for survival. Women must have the information."

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