A new program for breast cancer screening and diagnosis has been launched in Washington DC to target African American women who live in Ward 8, where the breast cancer death rate is 10 percent higher than the national average.
The DC Pink Divas program focuses on educating women about breast cancer detection, and empowering those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer by helping patients navigate the treatment process. The program received a $200,000 grant from Susan G. Komen for the Cure®, the national foundation dedicated to the fight against breast cancer. Susan G. Komen Foundation has a total of $11 million in breast health education and outreach programs in the D.C. area.
“Through our City-Wide Patient Navigation Network we have been able to combat high rates of breast cancer in Ward 8 by empowering, educating and impacting more than 3,000 women in one of the most underserved communities in the country,” said program founder Etta-Cheri Washington. “Our mission is to start a ripple effect among the women of Ward 8 by empowering sisters to recognize their needs, educating them so they can take action and plan breast cancer prevention activities, and impacting them enough so they venture out on their own and share their knowledge with others.”
Washington is a patient navigator at the Capital City Area Health Education Center (AHEC), helping breast cancer patients and their families figure out the medical system during treatment and providing support during recovery. She was inspired to create DC Pink Divas by one of her patients, Valerie Holtz.
Holtz was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer in 2009 and was referred to Washington. Holtz, who was under-insured, was overwhelmed with the information she was receiving once diagnosed, and turned to Washington to pour through the pile of medical papers.
During their first meeting, Washington was struck by Holtz’s determination to not only learn everything about her disease but to help other women do so as well.
Despite undergoing a partial mastectomy, suffering from a degenerative joint disease and losing her mother, Holtz wanted to find a way to help other breast cancer patients in Ward 8 who also faced barriers in seeking treatment.
Washington was so moved by Holtz’s mission that she worked to provide her with transportation to and from her treatments every day, but she also educated her on treatment options and taught her how to advocate for her rights when speaking with healthcare professionals. Holtz went on to support her own sister, Sharon, who was diagnosed with cancer in both breasts while homeless and unemployed. Throughout treatment and recovery, the sisters encouraged themselves and other women through DC Pink Divas.
Valerie Holtz is now cancer free and works with other patient navigators through DC Pink Divas to help remove barriers to treatment for other breast cancer patients from both Ward 8 and Ward 7.
The Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure® will be held on June 2 on the National Mall. Three out of every four dollars raised during the race remain in the D.C. area for local breast education, screening, treatment and support programs, while the remaining funds support Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s efforts to address the growing breast cancer crisis globally.
For more information about DC Pink Divas, visit http://ccahec-dc.org/programs/patient-navigator.html.