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VOL 3. NO. 20 Monday, May 28 - Sunday, June 3, 2001
Sister Survivors Race for the Cure
By Avonie BROWN

Photo by Dazine Kent. Pictured L to R: Breast cancer survivors Sharon R. Hamilton, Rose Marie Holston, Maureen Malone and Renee Nash; singer Miriamm Wright; poet Cherie Ward, also a breast cancer survivor and Ruth Cooke-Gibbs of the BCRC.

The statistics are very sobering. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death among African-American women. We have a higher breast cancer death rate than women of any other ethnic group. And even though more white women than black women are diagnosed with breast cancer, we are less likely than white women to survive breast cancer five years after diagnosis, according to reports from the National Cancer Institute. Further, despite public service announcements stressing the fact that early detection is the key to surviving breast cancer, a significant number of black women who are most at risk do not participate in breast cancer screenings. In fact 1997 statistics showed that only 54% of black women, 50 years of age and older, had had a mammogram over a two year period.

On many levels efforts continue to remind black women about the importance of taking proactive steps to secure our health and survival. But nothing jolts you out of your complacency like the death of a loved one. Earlier this year Metro Connection lost our friend and colleague Dazine Kent. From our very first issue in 1998 to her last photo shoot (our 2000 Christmas Cover story,) Dazine was an ever loyal and talented presence. As a woman approaching her 50th birthday, she understood her health risks, but her fear coupled with the fact that she had no health insurance, prevented her from taking advantage of some available resources.

Our first serious discuss about breast cancer came after we attended a presentation of the production Sounding the Alarm in April 2000. The musical drama was written by and produced by singer Miriamm Wright of JasMar Entertainment. Sounding the Alarm tells a very poignant story of a young woman who seemed to have it all - a close circle of friends, an active social life, good looks, a regular fitness regiment and a great job. She was a woman on the move and breast cancer was the farthest thing from her mind. She was so busy living the "good life" that she heeded none of the warnings to do regular breast self-exams and at 29 she definitely never even thought about having a mammogram done. She would ultimately get a sobering reality check that forced her to question her mortality and everything about her life.

Told in five acts, Sounding the Alarm was a touching reminder that breast cancer is an equal opportunity disease. But it need not be a fatal one if we heed the precautionary warnings. The drama concluded with Miriamm performing the emotional and uplifting song "We Must Find A Cure." Miriamm's passion poured through and left many of us in the audience determined to be a part of the fight and the education process.

The play's outreach to young women is significant because many of us have been lulled into a false sense of security believing that breast cancer is a disease that affects "old" women. But the disease is rearing it ugly head in younger and younger black women. "Many of the women are under the age of 40 when diagnosed. We've seen the greatest increase in women aged 35 to 40," Zora Kramer Brown told Metro Connection in our October 14, 1999 cover story.

Brown, a 20-year breast cancer survivor, is founder and chairperson of the Breast Cancer Resource Committee (BCRC) which was established in 1989 with a mission to reduce the mortality rate from breast cancer among African-American women. She later established Rise, Sister, Rise in 1993, an Afrocentric support group for African-American women who are diagnosed with and/or are undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Each has been a life-line that have literally helped to save the lives of hundreds of black women. Renee Nash is among them.

"I called Zora late one night at a point in time when I was at the low of lows. When I tell people that she saved my life that night I'm telling the truth," said Nash. The anchor-reporter for WHUR 96.3 FM was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 29. Nash said that in some respects {Sounding the Alarm} parallels her own story. "Unlike her I had two children at the time, but at 29 I too was very successful in my career and my life was going relatively well. And then all of a sudden out of nowhere -- boom! -- breast cancer was a part of my life."

Nash shared that when her doctor informed her that a cancerous lump was found in her breast, her first response was denial. "I went to three doctors because when the first white doctor told me I had breast cancer I thought he was tripping. And immediately I said to myself, `He must have me mixed up with some old white lady.' Here I was looking forward to turning 30 and this man was talking about cancer treatment and my hair falling out - I was not feeling him," said Nash with candor. "I didn't believe him. I didn't act on it. And if you know anything about cancer, time is everything."

Despite repeated phone calls from her doctor Nash continued to ignore the obvious. "I was so lost that I even started thinking he found out I had good insurance so he's trying to get my money," Nash was now able to humorously admit. But when she got a second opinion from another male doctor, she rejected his diagnosis with the rationale that he was a man and knew nothing about a woman's breast. It took a third diagnosis by a female doctor for her to accept the truth of her situation. "It was then that I said, `Okay Renee, its time to focus in on this. Its now time to really get serious.'"

Confronted head on with her own mortality, Nash said she knew she had to save her life for her then five year old son and 2-1/2 year old daughter. "I was not ready to go. I had babies to live for. So I joined in the battle." Nash had a lumpectomy and a mild form of chemotherapy. While she didn't loose her hair (an important concern for some of us sisters), she said she was very sick and weak after each treatment. Now 39, Nash is a 10 year breast cancer survivor.

As a journalist I get exposed to an abundant amount of information and I have done stories about breast cancer over the years. I got the facts and of course I empathized with the women who have had to deal with the disease. But it didn't truly register until Dazine died on Jan 31, 2001. At 35, the surgeon general tells me that I need not worry for another five years, but the realities of black life tells me that I have to take charge of my health today on my own terms. I have to make my health and the health of all black women a priority.

On Saturday, June 2, the BCRC will be well represented at the National Race For The Cure, a 5K run/walk and 1-mile fun walk to benefit breast cancer research, education, screening and treatment programs. Participants are still being recruited to participate with BCRC. And the numbers do matter. Nearly 100,000 participants are expected at this year's event. The funds raised will include pledges secured by each registered team. From that at least $1 million of the net proceeds will remain in the metro area to support local programs. If we don't make our presence felt at the race we threaten our access to all its benefits.

To join the BCRC team, you must register for the 2001 Komen National Race For The Cure. On May 31, June 1 you may still register and pick up your race T-shirt and bib number at the Woodrow Wilson Plaza at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center (1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW) from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. The registration fee is $30. Be sure to include the Run, Sister, Run team code "RSR" on your registration form. For registration information call 703-848-8884. Members of BCRC's team must meet at 13 & E, NW at 6:30 a.m. For further information about BCRC and its team call 202-463-8040.

And in memory of Dazine, and other communications professionals who have been victims of breast cancer, the Capital Press Club is also sponsoring a team to participate in the race. For more information call 301-499-4739 or email krussell@erols.com.

Even if you cannot participate in the race you can still make a difference by doing a monthly breast self-exam and encouraging the women in you life to do the same. Remember the mantra, "Early detection saves lives." As Brown told us, "Cancer instills fear in people. We know we have no cure, or don't know what causes the disease, but I can tell you one thing, I know you can effectively treat it. I knew I could survive because early diagnosis means a better prognosis."

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