“If you’ve got it, fight it.” That’s what Corine Bradford had to say about breast cancer when she spoke to the crowd gathered at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) for a recent event to raise awareness of the disease among women in the African-American community in Memphis and the Mid-South.
Bradford, a 25-year survivor, is one of 80 African-American women whose portraits are included in a unique exhibition that is on display at UTHSC through November. A public reception was held on October 29 for the exhibition titled “LIVE! Just as We Are.” The display is designed to put a face on breast cancer and raise awareness of the importance of early detection, treatment and support to reduce high mortality rates in the African-American community.
“It takes a lot of you to survive, but you have to be in there fighting,” said Bradford, one of several survivors at the reception. “The sting has been taken out of a lot of the treatments, and they’re not as harsh as they were when I had cancer. But I thank God for them, because by the grace of God, I made it this far.”
The event was held the same day new information from the American Cancer Society (ACS) focused the spotlight on breast cancer in the African-American community. A report from the ACS showed that African-American and Caucasian women are, for the first time, being diagnosed with breast cancer at the same rate. In the past, African-American women were less likely to be diagnosed with the disease, but more likely to die from it for a variety of reasons, including later diagnosis and often insufficient access to treatment.
Mortality rates for African-American women with breast cancer are still higher than those for Caucasian women, and Memphis has had the highest African-American breast cancer mortality rates in the United States for two decades.
The LIVE! Breast Cancer Awareness and Action Coalition, a group of grassroots health care and community organizations convened by UTHSC, created the portrait exhibition earlier this year to emphasize the need for African-American women to take charge of their breast health. Last February, the LIVE! Coalition mounted the exhibition in conjunction with a half-day summit, which brought more than 500 African-American women to the UTHSC campus to educate, support and encourage them to get the health education, screening and treatment they need to battle the disease. The LIVE! Breast Cancer Awareness and Action Coalition will host its second annual LIVE! Summit on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. For details on the time and locations for the event, follow the LIVE! Coalition at facebook.com/LiveJustAsWeAre or on Twitter at twitter.com/just_ar1.
UTHSC Chancellor Steve J. Schwab, MD, told reporters he believes more African-American women are being diagnosed because the message of early screening, diagnosis and treatment is being heard. “I think it is awareness,” he said. “It’s awareness that you need to be seen, you need screening mammograms, and once you have a positive finding on a mammogram, you need aggressive intervention early.”
Still, there is a lot to be done to close the gap in mortality rates in Memphis, and so the mission of the LIVE! Coalition continues.
“Everyone is coming together because we’ve recognized in the last few years the deep, deep problems we have here in Memphis with breast cancer,” said Stephen Edge, MD, director of the Baptist Cancer Center, a sponsor of the 2016 summit. “We recognize we have to cross these paths together. This exhibit is an example of how we are all in this together.”
Memphis-area women who are breast cancer survivors and want their images added to the LIVE! exhibit can have their photos taken Thursday, November 5, and Tuesday, December 8, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the UTHSC Student Alumni Center, 800 Madison Avenue, in the Sam Sanders Room on the third floor. A digital display of the expanding exhibit is planned.