Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Women to Women Program Shares Breast Cancer Education

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Women to Women Program Shares Breast Cancer Education

Article excerpt

Essie Nemons wanted a seat right up front.

"It's just like church," she told the other women as she slid primly into place. "You only get out of it what you put in."

The apartment air was thick with the smell of home cooking - of fried chicken wings and fresh tuna salad. Soon, Estella Vaughn would be talking about her cherished family recipe for frozen custard. But first, there was important business to discuss. First, they must talk about dandelions. Breast cancer is like a dandelion, explained Ernestine Yancy, the woman who brought them together on this cold and rainy morning. When it appears, it can be very tiny like a dandelion's fuzzy seeds. And just as those seeds can scatter in the wind to spread weeds throughout your yard, so the cancer can spread until it infects all of your body. "It is important to find it early and treat it early," Yancy said. Sitting around her dinner table, the women nodded their agreement. And so, another low-tech salvo is fired in the war against breast cancer. For now, it's hardly enough to make a dent. Breast cancer is still the most common form of malignancy in American women, with 160,000 new cases and an estimated 40,000 deaths nationwide each year. But this limited pilot program, developed at the Washington University School of Medicine, might make a difference. In an age of medical miracles, it is a throwback. There is no breakthrough treatment involved; no expensive, high-tech machines. Instead, a few trained volunteers like Yancy give seminars to small groups - in senior centers and private homes - stressing the importance of early detection and treatment. Their audience is other women like themselves: older, primarily African-Americans who live in poor, urban neighborhoods. The reason for that, explained program developer Celette Sugg Skinner, is as simple as it is tragic. African-American women are less likely than others to contract breast cancer, but once they do, they are more likely to die from the disease. "Breast cancer is typically found later in African-American women than in white women," said Skinner, an assistant professor of radiology. "That's due at least in part to a lower screening rate." While the death rate from breast cancer is declining among white women, it continues to rise for African-Americans, she said. The half-dozen women gathered in Yancy's apartment know little about death rates. Death, however, is something with which they are all too familiar. "A friend of mine, she had it," Nemons related sadly. "But she waited too long to see the doctor. …

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