There is no real way to describe the overwhelming and emotional reaction one can feel when faced with the possibility of cancer. Even the word cancer itself, can stir a mix of concern and fear among the strongest willed persons. Breast cancer survival requires you to face that fear. My mom had it. But thanks to early detection, many prayers, and our supportive network of doctors, family, friends, and community—today she is healthy in body, mind and heart.
During the month of October, organizations nationwide have been doing their part to raise greater awareness for the most common cause of death from cancer in Hispanic women—breast cancer. And though Latinas have lower overall breast cancer rates than white women, the US Department of Health and Human Services notes Hispanic women are more likely than whites to be diagnosed at a later stage, when the cancer is more advanced and harder to treat. As a working mother of two very beautiful mini reflections of me, I make time for my health first because I understand this disease can take hold of anyone, including me.
The American Cancer Society estimated 2,400 breast cancer deaths in 2012—this would be the equivalent of approximately seven Latinas per day, or about one death every four hours. As such, it is absolutely critical for Hispanic women to carry out regular breast cancer screenings to increase early detection and talk to your doctors about any unusual changes you may notice right away. We must not be frightened, feel embarrassed, or remain silent—prevention is crucial.
Studies show that Hispanic women cancer patients’ experiences are embedded in culturally based values of family and faith that are interrelated and culturally bound. For many of our sisters, friends, and family members who may be battling valiantly through this disease, this unfamiliar loss of independence can feel very isolating. And while actively helping our loved ones manage their side effects is part of the overall treatment process, equally important is building a loving, compassionate, and supportive environment that can aid in generating meaningful breakthroughs during such a difficult time.
Breast cancer survival is a global issue, and you have probably noticed the plethora of pretty pink ribbons, lapel pins, t-shirts, or even pink hair streaks showing up in your communities, place of work, and social media feeds. These active, real time representations of love, support and solidarity for those fighting the disease not only helps raise awareness but bring much needed breast health services to women in need all over the world.
One partnership doing their part to address the need for supporting breast cancer patients with a humane and positive attitude is the Global Health department of the American Cancer Society and legendary Latina designer, Carolina Herrera. The Support with a Smile project presents a virtual smile that can then be placed on an existing or new photo, and shared as a direct message of solidarity to women with breast cancer worldwide. The project is specifically designed to raise funds to provide emotional support, prevention and early detection promotion programs all across Latin America.
Programs such as these that focus on providing culturally appropriate, linguistic and emotionally sensitive breast cancer services are creating a movement of authentic health care that is rooted in empowering the patient and demystifying the fear of the unknown. As we reach the close of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, let’s be honest about this disease and remember that our breast health is not something we should only worry about in the month of October but rather all year round. Our families deserve to have las Mamis around for a very long time.