Detroit’s first lady: We must keep fighting breast cancer

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    The mayor and I are looking forward to the May 18 Susan G. Komen Detroit Race for the Cure at Comerica Park. Since Detroit’s first Race for the Cure in 1992, the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute has been the local presenting sponsor. Over the years, the event has raised more than $23 million for the fight against breast cancer with some remarkable results. Dave and I join fellow Honorary Co- Chairs Governor Snyder and First Lady Sue Snyder (a breast cancer survivor), Senator Carl and Barbara Levin, Senator Debbie Stabenow, Congressman John and Debbie Dingell, Congressman John Conyers, and Congressman Gary and Colleen Peters in lending both our names and our commitment to this fight. Breast cancer touches all of us in some way.

    My friend and colleague, Sue Ray, who has been with Dave and me for 26 years, is a breast cancer survivor. My late twin sister, Yvonne, had breast cancer. I know many other women who are courageously fighting now and, sadly, too many who have lost their battle. Most of us know that all women are at risk for developing breast cancer, and that men can develop it too. We’ve certainly heard that early detection really does make a difference.

    Every woman should learn about her family history with this disease, and understand what’s normal for her. Talk to your doctor about the importance of regular screening, including mammograms, in order to detect cancer at its earliest, most curable stages. What may not be as widely known, however, is that breast cancer can be a greater challenge and often a deadlier disease for African American women. While White women are diagnosed with breast cancer more often, African American women die more often from the disease. One of the reasons is that for African American women, their cancers are more likely to be found later, after they’ve begun to spread. Here in metro Detroit for example, African American women are 1.5 times more likely to be diagnosed at stage 3 or 4, meaning the cancers have already begun to spread to other parts of the body. This also means their treatment is more difficult and more costly.

    It’s always awful for someone to hear “You have breast cancer,” so much worse to learn it is not early-stage disease. There is no question that great progress is being made. Yet, even progress milestones include some level of disparities. For example, since 1975 the fiveyear relative survival rate has increased significantly for African American women, yet there remains a substantial gap between us and White women. Currently, the five-year relative survival rate is 77 percent for African Americans compared to 90-plus percent among white women. And fewer of us report that we are getting our mammograms than do other women. There is much to be optimistic about, however.

    The Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program (BCCCP) is widely available in the city of Detroit, providing free screening for women who are uninsured and under-insured. Money raised by the Komen Detroit Race funds grants that are providing an even tighter safety net, including six programs across Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties that are working to provide access to early detection and quality care. Susan G. Komen has also funded cutting-edge breast cancer research. Several of their projects at Karmanos, Wayne State University and Henry Ford are delving more deeply into the scientific mechanisms behind racial disparities of breast cancer. Every one of us can do something to make a difference. We can talk with our families and share medical histories. We can talk with our doctors to learn our own personal risk.

    We can transform that knowledge into personal care plans, with earlier or more frequent screenings if we are at greater risk. We can learn more about breast cancer and its impact on our community, then share what we know. We can be vigilant about our own health — getting more active, eating sensibly and reducing stress. It can be as simple as a morning walk shared with 40,000 others who believe as I do, that one day, we will see a world without breast cancer. I’ll be at Comerica Park with the mayor on Saturday, May 18. I hope you will join us.

    Contact Komen Detroit Race for the Cure at raceforthecure@karmanos.org or call 248.304.2080. Register at www. karmanoscancer.org/komedetroit.

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