At Mary’s Place, health education is just as important as meeting the immediate needs of the women and children who come to them for help. Zaneta McQuarter, program coordinator at the homeless shelter, said they hold health workshops about once a week. Since they assist thousands of women each year, it’s important to have ongoing workshops. “It’s a way to get women thinking,” she said. When you’re homeless, “your health isn’t your top priority.”
Breast health educator Kim Schaaf joined breast cancer survivor Katrina Cathcart in speaking with a group about the importance of breast self-exams. Both are with CanCan, a nonprofit devoted to putting “people into action about their health, giving them tools for early detection, prevention and self-advocacy.” Sitting in a circle, Schaaf and Cathcart talk about a serious topic using visuals, personal experience and humor.
Schaaf guides the women through a breast self-exam and passes around a model breast to touch so they can learn how to detect lumps. “You are a person of worth. Listen to your gut; it will tell you something isn’t quite right,” said Schaaf. “If you know something is not right, and you’re not getting the attention you’re seeking, continue to speak up.”
Cathcart shared memories of her mother’s breast cancer diagnosis, which happened in the 1960s when Cathcart was 16. “In those days, treatment was very crude,” she said. “I can still smell the burning of the skin from radiation.”
Watching her mother and other family members fight the disease made a profound impact on her life. Cathcart remained vigilant about her own health, and in 2004, she found a lump in her breast. “With this, it was something different. The feel was different,” she said. Later, a physician found cancer in her other breast after reduction surgery, as well as a tumor in her ovary.
It’s estimated that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. As a black woman, the fact that Cathcart beat the odds is significant. “Eleven years later, I’m still here.”
Results from a recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association showed “black women are more likely to die due to breast cancer within seven years compared with non-Latina white or Asian women.” Reasons for the disparity include lack of medical coverage, unequal access to improvements in cancer treatment and genetics. According to the National Cancer Institute, aggressive tumors are more common in black and Latina women.
Cathcart said she noticed a disparity while receiving chemotherapy treatment and decided to reach out to others. “I’m here because I’m concerned about women,” she said. “We don’t take care of ourselves.”
For more information on how to host your own CanCan educational workshop or where to attend one already scheduled, go to cancanhealth.org.