Breast cancer is an equal opportunity disease, yet substantial differences continue to exist in access to care and support among populations defined by age, ethnicity and sexual orientation.
DBCC recognizes that one-size-fits-all messaging fails to resonate with many people affected by breast cancer. “We tailor the message so we can reach the most recipients in the most meaningful way,” says Patty Vivo-Aucoin, DBCC bilingual screening navigator and outreach coordinator.
Young women are less likely to develop breast cancer but the challenges they face are far different from those of older women. They may be caring for young children. They face the prospect of chemo-induced infertility. They may have to interrupt their careers or keep working to maintain their health insurance. They also tend to have an aggressive form of cancer that does not respond well to less toxic treatments.
Cancer is also an isolating experience for these women. “There isn’t the same kind of support because in their network of peers, they’re less likely to find somebody who’s been through it,” says Cathy Holloway, program director for education and survivorship at DBCC.
The Young Survivors in Action Program at DBCC works with younger women to identify the issues they’re most concerned with. In addition to educational and health-related offerings, the program is working to form a network so that the women can communicate online. “Young survivors are busy, so this gives them another way to communicate with each other,” says Holloway.
Alexis Milam found blogging beneficial. “Just connecting with other women who were survivors or who were going through treatment helped,” says the 32-year-old from Elkton, Md.
Lesbians may have more risk factors for breast cancer than their heterosexual peers because they might not have children or don’t feel the need for regular reproductive care. Some avoid medical care due to fear of discrimination or lack of understanding on the part of health care professionals.
“People are still a little concerned about being ‘out,’ even though Rehoboth and Lewes are great places to live,” says DBCC peer mentor Marsh Zellhoffer.
DBCC is reaching out to this community through its partnership with CAMP Rehoboth, a gay and lesbian community-service organization in Rehoboth Beach. DBCC has given breast health presentations at the CAMP’s annual “Women’s Fest” weekend as well as its Health Day.
“By partnering with CAMP Rehoboth that immediately says DBCC is valid and you might want to listen to them,” says DBCC education and survivorship program manager Connie Holdridge.
A highlight of “Women’s Fest” is the “Broadwalk on the Boardwalk” which raises funds for the DBCC. “The partnership with the DBCC just makes an ideal fit,” says CAMP Rehoboth board member Kathy Wiz who started the event two years ago after her sister was diagnosed. “CAMP Rehoboth doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel and the DBCC doesn’t have to go looking for a lesbian audience.”
Raising awareness in the Latina community can be especially challenging. “When we talk about the Hispanic or Latina community, we tend to think about a group of people who are very homogeneous,” says Vivo-Aucoin. “But they are a very diverse group of people. They come from many different countries and there exist differences in language, culture, level of education and literacy.”
The situation is especially challenging in Sussex County where access to transportation is limited and illiteracy rates are high. In 2011, the DBCC hosted the first annual VIDA! forum at the Georgetown Fire Hall. Participants heard talks on breast-health issues by health care professionals and stories from survivors.
“One of the ways we ensured people would be there was to have it right in their community,” says DBCC executive director Vicky Cooke. “They didn’t need to drive.”
The State of Delaware’s Women’s Mobile Health Screening Van was on site to provide mammograms. Participants could also take advantage of clinical breast exams as well as screenings for cholesterol, high blood pressure, skin cancer and diabetes provided by Beebe Medical Center.
For more about the Delaware Breast Cancer coalition, click here.