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Health advocates promote "She Matters" mammogram campaign in Syracuse

Ellen Abbott
The "She Matters" campaign will kick off at Pioneer homes in Syracuse.

There is a nationwide racial disparity when it comes to breast cancer. The mortality rate is 41 percent higher for African-American women than Caucasian women. But a special program at Pioneer Homes in Syracuse hopes to put a dent in that number.

The idea is to get the 149 women over the age of 40 in this public housing development to get a mammogram, which can detect cancer in its early stages and can lead to better survival rates.

But it’s easier said than done. Some of the residential health team leaders who will try to get these women to get the test say there are many reasons it’s a challenge.

"Mainly people are scared just from listening to other people," one woman said. "That’s what happened to me. But when I went and got it done, it didn’t hurt at all."

Also, often these women put family first.

"We’re caregivers, but when it comes to taking care of ourselves we don’t have the time, we don’t have the support,” said another woman.

Advocate Lisa Bigelow echoed their remarks.

“I know for me and my sister, if it wasn’t for us, our mother wouldn’t have received treatment," Bigelow said. "It was very difficult for her. She wouldn’t even take the pain medication until she was in the hospice state, because she was so entrenched in her own values and belief system. So we have our work cut out in that regard, we have to get through a lot of the traditional ways of thinking in the community.”

So with a $50,000 grant from the Susan G. Koman affiliate, a program called “She Matters” intends to use health advocates to educate, support and encourage women to get the test. Mary Harris is prepared to walk across the street to the radiology unit with residents, if that’s what it takes.

"To stand with them, support them just in case if they are nervous, we’ll go stand with you and talk with you while they’re doing it,” Harris said.

If this intensive hands-on approach works at Pioneer Homes, Upstate Cancer Center Director Leslie Kohman says the concept will branch out.

"These resident health advocates could go to other housing developments and teach their peers in other locations," Kohman explained. "After that we could branch off into other diseases, we could get the men involved."

Kohman also says it’s important to reach African American women especially on this issue.

“It’s mostly not biological, it’s socio-economic," Kohman explained. "It’s access, it’s issues such as higher incidence of other diseases.”

The educational outreach starts in August.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.