Spreading the Word 

Local organization brings awareness to the impact of breast cancer on African-American women.

In 2007, Annie Hollings, then 43 years old, discovered a lump in her left breast after conducting a routine breast self-exam.

Alarmed by the discovery, she made an appointment with her doctor to have it examined. After conducting an ultrasound, her doctor assured her that everything was fine. But less than a year later, that would turn out not to be the case.

"In fall 2008, the knot became tender and enlarged," Hollings said. "And I found a lump under my left arm, which was a swollen lymph node. I went in to the doctor, and they did a thorough examination. It turned out that the knot was malignant."

Hollings was diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2). She had to have a radical mastectomy of her left breast. She also underwent chemotherapy that resulted in the loss of her hair, fingernails, eyebrows, and eyelashes. But eventually, she overcame breast cancer.

Hollings is a member of the Memphis chapter of Sisters Network, a national organization of African-American breast cancer survivors. Sisters Network Memphis holds community fund-raisers and speaking engagements to help raise awareness of the impact that breast cancer has on African Americans.

"We're trying to stop the silence about breast cancer through education and awareness," said Carolyn Whitney, president of Sisters Network Memphis. "We're making people aware of the resources available to them, to emphasize early detection of breast cancer."

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, when organizations bring attention to a disease that affects more than 200,000 women in the United States annually.

White women are more likely to get breast cancer than black women, but black women are 41 percent more likley to die from it, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

According to the ACS, an estimated 27,060 new cases of breast cancer are expected to occur among African-American women this year; more than 6,000 of those women are estimated to die from the disease.

"Genetically, black women can have what we call triple negative breast cancer, and that puts them in a much higher risk [of succumbing to it]," said Dr. Joe Baier, owner of the Mroz Baier Breast Care Clinic. "If they have triple negative, they have no estrogen [receptors], progesterone receptors, or [HER2] complex windows on the cell."

Black women are also statistically more likely to lack health insurance and less likely than white women to visit the doctor for health screenings on a frequent basis. This potentially leads to breast cancer being detected in a more advanced stage among black women.

The Mroz Baier Breast Care Clinic provides free mammograms for those who lack health insurance.

In Memphis, breast cancer mortality among black women seems to be a bigger issue than in other cities. A study conducted by Sinai Urban Health Institute in Chicago examined racial disparity in breast cancer mortality rates within the 25 largest cities in the country, and Memphis topped the list. Black women in Memphis are more than twice as likely to die from breast cancer as their white counterparts, according to the study.

Sisters Network Memphis will host their 9th annual "Gift for Life Block Walk" on Saturday, October 19th from 9 to 11 a.m. at Promise Land Church (3430 Overton Crossing). For more information, contact Carolyn Whitney at 789-7239.

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