Peggy Ross is living proof that mammograms can save lives. Ross, director of the office of affirmative action for the state of Oregon, was diagnosed with cancer after a mammogram screening.
"I had one sister die of breast cancer," Ross told The Skanner. "then I was diagnosed in April. I know that early detection is important because it was caught by a physical when I was in early stage one. If I had not had a mammogram, it would have been in a later stage. So I am a survivor."
Now Ross, who is just finishing her treatment program, is determined to get word out to women at risk — especially women of color, who are at higher risk of dying from breast cancer. To help raise awareness about the crucial role of breast cancer screening and early detection, Ross is leading a team that will walk in the 2007 Komen Race for the Cure. The event, set for Sept. 23 at Waterfront Park, raises money for breast cancer screening, education and research. Designed to fit all ages and abilities, it will feature a five kilometer run, a five kilometer walk and a one-mile short walk. Ross's team is named Team Peggy for Mammograms. The team is open to anyone who wants to help raise money for screenings.
"Mammograms are not painful, they are just uncomfortable," said Katherine Manglona-Santos, a Team Peggy member. "Having a mammogram every year is only two minutes of being uncomfortable. ... I want to get this out that there is a way to catch this disease at an early stage."
In 2006, the Oregon and Southwest Washington Komen group will provide over $642,000 for free screenings to about 3000 women. Along with the National Centers for Disease Control, the foundation funds the State of Oregon's Breast and Cervical Cancer Program. Under the program, low-income and uninsured women can receive free breast screenings, including mammograms.
All women should have a mammogram by age 40, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After-50 women should be screened once a year. Younger women should learn how to check their own breasts and should consult a doctor if they detect lumps or other symptoms.
"I would just encourage women not to let a fear of the unknown stop them from getting screened," Ross said.
According to statistics from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths for women, affecting about one woman in eight. Men also can get breast cancer, but the rates are far lower. For unknown reasons, Oregon and Washington have the highest rates of breast cancer in the nation. In addition breast cancer rates vary by race and ethnicity, with Whites having the highest incidence followed by African Americans, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans. Yet even though African Americans in these states are a smaller population than Whites, Black women are more likely to die from it.
This health disparity is thought to be, at least in part, because Black women are less likely to have health insurance and access to screening services. As a result breast cancer in Black women is detected later. This is a problem because the earlier breast cancer is caught, the better women's survival rates.
This month Chrysalis Ministries, led by Rev. Renee Ward, launched a breast cancer outreach and education campaign for African American women. Rev. Ward also has formed a team called Crowned Jewels, for African American women who want to participate in the Komen Race for the Cure. The team will be offering breast cancer information and signing up women to their team Saturday, Sept. 8, at Mid K Beauty Supply located at Northeast Ivy Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
"My goal is to sign up 500 participants for this race," Rev. Ward said. "What we would like to see is a strong African American presence at the starting line on Sept. 23. We want to raise awareness of this disease in the African American Community so we are encouraging people to join us. We will meet up as near to the start line as possible."
In Oregon free breast health screenings are provided by a network of clinics funded in part by grants from the Komen foundation. For more information visit http://oregon.gov/DHS/ph/bcc/hlthchk.shtml Starting Oct. 1. Oregon women may call 1-877-255-7070 to find out about free mammograms. In S.W. Washington women should call 1-800-992-1817.