MISSION MOMENT | Meet Dr. Sharon Wilks

It’s the fifth day of National Minority Cancer Awareness Week! Read the final part of this three part series to see what Dr. Sharon Wilks, M.D., F.A.C.P, a physician with the Cancer Care Centers of South Texas, has to say about minority cancer awareness. Dr. Wilks played a big role in helping Blanca survive this disease and has been a main supporter throughout her journey.

Blanca (left) with Dr. Sharon Wilks of Cancer Care Centers of South Texas

Blanca (left) with Dr. Sharon Wilks of Cancer Care Centers of South Texas

Continuum of Care Disparity: Screening

Dr. Wilks works with a broad range of races and ethnicities. A prominent issue that she observed in 2013 was minority women presenting more advanced stages of breast cancer. When advanced stages of breast cancer are presented at first diagnosis it is most often due to a woman waiting a certain period of time before being screened. Lack of breast cancer screening is a critical gap in the continuum of care; screening, detection, treatment, follow-up care and survivorship.

There are various reasons as to why minority women may experience a disparity in screening rates, said Dr. Wilks, which include the following barriers:

  • Poor access to care
  • Uninsured or underinsured
  • Myths

Dr. Wilks explained that myths are a barrier to women of all races, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. Many women reason that if breast cancer is not in their family history, then they do not need to worry about or be screened for breast cancer. This perception of not being at risk is a large barrier that discourages women from entering the continuum of care, where even if a woman has health insurance she may not be screened due to believing she is not ask risk for the disease.

Other socioeconomic and demographic barriers which can affect screening rates include, but are not limited to:

  • Living in poverty
  • Linguistically isolated
  • Unemployed
  • Minimal education

Whatever the reason or barrier may be, the disparity in breast cancer screening for minority women is evident. Dr. Wilks stated that she finds minority women far more often diagnosed at advanced stages and therefore in need of advanced treatment, such as chemotherapy, than what is regularly seen in the non-minority community.

“We need to strive to be sure that all women are screened even when they are not presenting any symptoms,” affirmed Dr. Wilks.

Minority Breast Cancer Disparity: Barriers

Barriers, which many minorities experience, may affect the outcome of a patient’s treatment. Though is not frequent, Dr. Wilks has recognized that a language barrier may affect a patients treatment outcome. Such that if a patient is linguistically isolated, such as being Spanish speaking only, the patient might experience a sense of denial and may not always have a clear understanding of the situation. A few visits after said patient might have responded that they understood the situation, Dr. Wilks becomes aware that there wasn’t actually comprehension. She feels that this language barrier can affect the outcome of treatment for the disease.

Specific Race and Ethnicities: Risk Factor Awareness

A woman being aware of her racial or ethnic backgrounds breast cancer risk factors was encouraged by Dr. Wilks. For example, African American women have a lower risk for breast cancer incidence, but experience more aggressive forms of breast cancer. These women also have higher risk factors for triple negative breast cancer which is very fast growing and can become metastatic early on.

In addition, women need to pay attention to changes in their breasts; due to racial or ethnic background breast cancer risk factors, a woman could be at risk for a rapidly progressing type of breast cancer which could become metastatic much faster than one might think. This is also important to be screened as a precautionary measure even when you are not presenting symptoms for breast cancer.

Though the breast health services offered by Komen Austin community partners are comprehensive, we still see local breast cancer disparities. This is why locally available breast health education is imperative.

Read tomorrows blog to find out what Komen Austin’s very own Director of Mission Services, Eliza May, is doing to strengthen multicultural breast health awareness efforts in order to provide the education of prevention and detection that is needed for women to choose to be screened.

We can’t let this disease live in silence. Join the conversation by sharing your photos, stories, and breast cancer awareness efforts on Twitter and Facebook using #NMCAW2014 this week!

 

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MISSION MOMENT | Blanca’s Co-Survivors

It’s the fourth day of National Minority Cancer Awareness Week! Yesterday we introduced you to Blanca who was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer in 2010. Now with a group of co-survivors at her side, she continues to battle the disease to this day with strength, dignity and grace.  Read part two of this three part series below.

Blanca (bottom right) at her monthly support group Komen Austin's community partner.

Blanca (bottom right) at her monthly support group Komen Austin’s community partner.

Last July, Blanca was told she only had six months to live after learning her stage IV breast cancer that she had been battling since 2010 had metastasized to her brain.  Thanks to a new treatment regime of radiation and chemotherapy led by Dr. Wilks, the cancer in her brain is nearly gone and her previous prognosis has been dismissed.

Through this entire journey, Blanca remained a strong, independent, stay-at-home mother of five.  However, since July, her support network of co-survivors has grown.

Blanca still has her doctors and patient navigators thanks to Komen Austin’s community partners. The navigators still make sure she gets to every appointment and attends monthly support group meetings with other survivors.

Her boyfriend of 16 years, who is the sole financial provider for the family and had to be away consistently for work, has been able to come home more to be by Blanca’s side.  In fact, the two wed last October!!

Her mother, Graciela, even relocated to help her in any way she could.  When she heard the news about Blanca’s diagnosis she thought the worst. She had no idea how well Blanca was doing and what a normal life she was trying to lead until she arrived to her home.

Blanca is already a courageous woman, and having her co-survivors by her side, she continues to fight this disease with strength, dignity and grace.

Blanca is quoted as saying, “I am going to continue to live my life. I will not allow it [breast cancer] to be something that is in my every thought.”

Be sure to read tomorrow’s blog featuring Blanca’s doctor, Dr. Sharon Wilks of the Cancer Care Centers of South Texas.

We can’t let this disease live in silence. Join the conversation by sharing your photos, stories, and breast cancer awareness efforts on Twitter and Facebook using #NMCAW2014 this week!

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MISSION MOMENT | Meet Blanca

It’s the third day of National Minority Cancer Awareness Week and we want you to meet Blanca.  Blanca is a strong Hispanic woman, wife, mother of five and breast cancer survivor from Hays County…but there’s more to her story.  Read part one of this three part series below.

Blanca (right), was diagnosed with breast cancer at 37 years old.

Blanca (right), was diagnosed with breast cancer at 37 years old.

Blanca was just 37 years old when she was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer in 2010.

Her diagnosis came after a local breast health representative stopped by her home to share more about breast cancer and the services available.  Blanca described her symptoms, which included a startling cough, and was strongly encouraged to seek doctor assistance right away.

It was confirmed that she had breast cancer which had already metastasized to her lung.

This was not easy news for this strong, independent, stay-at-home mother of five. She was the caretaker for her children while her boyfriend worked for long periods of time away from the home.  She even took care the of the family sheep!  Asking for help was hard for her, however, she knew financially she couldn’t fight breast cancer alone.

She was connected with two of Komen Austin’s community partners, Community Action, Inc. and WINGS, who provided her with patient navigation services, treatment and so much more.

When it came time for treatment, Dr. Sharon Wilks, immediately signed her up for a clinical trialThe results?  The treatment eliminated most of her symptoms for three years.

Life was back on track for Blanca and her family.  The support and results of this treatment gave her family hope.

Then over a weekend in July of 2013, she started shaking, her body started cramping from her arms up to her head and she could no longer hold a knife in the kitchen.  She immediately called her patient navigator from Community Action who recommended that she go to the emergency room.  It was there she learned that her cancer had metastasized to her brain and was told she had only six months to live.

This prognosis did not stop Blanca from fighting breast cancer with strength, dignity and grace.  Tomorrow we will share more on her life today and how her family came from near and far to be with her as she faced this new journey.

We can’t let this disease live in silence. Join the conversation by sharing your photos, stories, and breast cancer awareness efforts on Twitter and Facebook using #NMCAW2014 this week!

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MISSION MOMENT | National Minority Cancer Awareness Week

This week is National Minority Cancer Awareness Week! Follow Komen Austin from April 13th through the 19th on WordPress, Facebook and Twitter for breast cancer survivor stories, insight from Dr. Sharon Wilks of the Cancer Care Centers of South Texas, and words from some of our partners on this matter. Discover what Komen Austin’s very own Director of Mission Services, Eliza May, is doing to target and enhance breast healthcare in minority communities, and to learn the need to know facts.

Continuum of Breast Health Care Model from Susan G. KomenDid you know that different races and ethnicities can be affected by breast cancer in different ways?  For example, Hispanic/Latina women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer at later stages and African-American women have the highest breast cancer mortality rate.

Demographic and socioeconomic factors are often indicators of barriers which minority women face that can prevent access to and utilization of breast health services. These barriers lead to women experiencing inadequate access to the continuum of care, which includes breast cancer screening, diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care.

Because there are so many factors that contribute to breast cancer disparities, it is crucial for Komen Austin to have community partners who together provide services covering the entire continuum of care. Regardless of the barriers a woman may be experiencing, as long as our community partners provide these services, she will have access to comprehensive care and receive services such as lifesaving mammograms.

Locally available breast health education is imperative. Strengthening multicultural awareness efforts will provide the education of prevention and detection needed for women to choose to get screened regardless of their race or ethnicity or the barriers which they may be facing. Raising awareness of the evident disparities, promoting prevention and detection via education, and having locally available services that span the entire continuum of care are unmistakable resources to every woman in our community!

Community, we want to hear from you! How are you contributing to breast cancer awareness? Share your stories and photos with us this week via #NMCAW2014. How are you working to fight this disease? Do you work with community partners to provide services or outreach to communities? Are you a caregiver in the home or professionally? A co-survivor? Are you a survivor? Stay tuned for a full week of insight and education, and to meet some amazing survivors in our community!

 

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VOLUNTEER SPOTLIGHT | That’s a Wrap!

Did you know Komen Austin depends on more than 2,000 of the best volunteers in Austin each year to run everything from the Komen Austin Race for the Cure to its education tables at local health fairs? We could not do what we do here without all of our amazing volunteers who donate their time to helping us and the community year round. We can’t THANK YOU enough!

This past week we took the time to thank some of our volunteers for their continuous support throughout the year and for what they do to #PowerThePromise. We had such a great time touring around the Austin are going to local high schools and businesses to deliver a little thank you treat from Nothing Bundt Cakes as a token of our appreciation. Thank you to Westwood High School, LBJ Nation Honors Society, Dell, Intel, Thermo Fisher, Rose Dental, Farmers Insurance, Austin Energy, and HomeAway for allowing us to stop by. We also want to thank some of our volunteers Martta Howard, Perreda Manor, Karin Foster, Natasha Smith, Jan Winkelmann, Jasmine Mann and John Mathieson for sharing their Komen Austin volunteer stories. Stay tuned as we start National Minority Cancer Awareness Week (#NMCAW2014) tomorrow!

 

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VOLUNTEER SPOTLIGHT | John Mathieson

It’s the fifth day of National Volunteer Appreciation Week 2014! This week we will spotlight and thank our volunteers that help us Power the Promise to end breast cancer forever. Meet John Mathieson, the photography chair for the Race for the Cure. Previously, he has worked at package pickup, set up for Race day, the Perfectly Pink Party, the King of the Pink Flamingos at the Survivor Celebration and The Pink Cowboy at the Austin Marathon water stop.  He is even on the speaker’s bureau! Find out more about John in his blog and video below.

Komen Austin Volunteer, John Mathieson

Komen Austin Volunteer, John Mathieson

The Choice

I have been volunteering for Komen Austin since October 2009. I came for one, four-hour stint and ended up staying 4 days! My mother-in-law passed away from breast cancer in 1996. Her battle with breast cancer lasted six long years, and unfortunately ended with her death. It was devastating to my wife; she changed, I changed and our marriage ended.  I volunteered to help others realize that breast self-health is so important. I have also found that people I respect the most work and volunteer with Komen Austin.  They could make more money elsewhere, as they are accomplished professionals, but they choose to use their talents helping to save lives.  That is so inspiring.  It is fun to work with people who have passion to give, simply a joy to be around.

The Impact

Over the past three years we have increased our media exposure from 500 photos to over three thousand!  We have captured and shown the world the strength, courage and hope of our survivors and those who love and support them.  We have created more awareness of how important early detection is.  And most importantly, we have more survivors. More survivors means we have helped more women benefit from breast self-health. That’s impact.

The Inspiration

I was working a package pickup at St. David North Austin Medical Center in 2010, giving out t-shirts and bibs, when a woman walked in who had no hair.  She had two children with her under the age of 10.  She confidently walked over to the survivor tent, smiled and then came over to us and said, “thank you for what you are doing!”  She was in the fight for her life, her kids looked scared, but she had a look of determination in her eyes that said to me, “I WILL BEAT THIS!” and she was thanking us.  That still gives me chills.  Her actions possessed so much power and inspiration.

 Help Power the Promise

One in eight women will get breast cancer.  I know that when my mother -in -law passed away I was lost, confused and felt helpless.  I did nothing for over ten years.  It was only then, when I realized that I had a choice.  I could let it be someone else’s problem or I could step up and take action.  It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.   Every day that I volunteer I get to be inspired.  Inspired by the women and men who volunteer. Inspired by the survivors who show others and me how precious our lives are. Our most precious asset is time.  Just ask any of the women who are in the fight for their lives what they want most and they say “more time with my family.” They want to live, to have more time to experience life. I know that I did not realize how valuable my time was until I started giving my time to others.   Volunteering for Komen Austin has made me realize how just a few hours of my time can have exponential results.  When I volunteer I get to be a part of something that will have an impact – NOW and in the future.  I get to experience living.  So get off the sidelines of life and volunteer for Komen Austin so you can feel alive too.

Email us at volunteer@komenaustin.org for more information about volunteering or visit here.

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VOLUNTEER SPOTLIGHT | From Interns to Volunteers, Meet Jan, Jasmine and Natasha

It’s the fourth day of National Volunteer Appreciation Week 2014! This week we will spotlight and thank our volunteers that help us Power the Promise to end breast cancer forever. Meet three of our former interns and current volunteers Jan Winkelmann, Jasmine Mann and Natasha Smith. Read below as they share their story. 

Natasha Smith

Natasha Smith

The Choice

I began volunteering with Komen Austin in May 2011 as a graphic design intern. I think fate must have been involved in pairing me with this organization because I was clueless about the mission and did not have any experience outside of school. The staff adopted me, and their welcoming personalities and benevolent way of looking at life served as proof of their big hearts and care for the community. In just a few weeks as an intern, I was aware that the organization did so much more than merely raise money. I learned about the grant process, the research done by the national headquarters and the deep involvement in their five-county area. The fact that one in eight women will be affected by breast cancer in her lifetime was drilled into my head. Not only did I learn about breast cancer as a disease, I learned about it as a community. I saw how it could lead to fear as well as hope. Most of all, I learned that we can never stop fighting. – Natasha Smith

The Impact

Every Komen Austin volunteer makes an impact, and I am fortunate enough to have learned, experienced and seen the truth of that statement.  No matter how big or small your volunteer efforts are, they all matter and play a part in continuing the success and growth of this amazing organization. If you have ever been in the Komen Austin office you have seen that there is only a handful of staff and interns. Komen Austin relies heavily on the efforts of volunteers. Volunteers play a huge role in making Komen Austin what it is today, and I know for a fact that Komen Austin, along with the many men and women in our community that we fight for, are grateful for the efforts of volunteers. – Jan Winkelmann

Jasmine Mann

Jasmine Mann

The Experience

My most memorable experience was when I was sitting at the front desk during my internship, and a young woman in her late 20s came in. She had recently lost her job and shortly after found a lump in her breast. Luckily, she found out it was benign because she was able to get a mammogram from one of Komen Austin’s community partners. She came in just to thank us (and even brought a cake!) Hearing her story made me realize just how much we are helping improve lives. Being a student and volunteering twice a week can sometimes get hectic, but I still encourage other students to get involved!. I enjoy my time here so much that even after my internship ended, I continued to volunteer. - Jasmine Mann

The Inspiration

I find purpose and satisfaction through the design work I do for Komen Austin because I know it is helping them spread their message, inform the community and raise money for such an important cause. Though my internship has ended, I still work for Komen Austin, and I will always be willing to do another project for them. They are constantly growing and finding new ways to inspire change. It is nice to see their success because I know that it is translating to real progress in the community. I know for a fact that this organization is not benefiting from bloated salaries or wasting money on themselves. Every penny that they raise either goes toward our community, or is productively spent on events that ensure they can continue providing grants and services.  Each time I attend a Komen Austin event, I am not surrounded by scared, sick women. The women I see are survivors. They are strong, beautiful, hopeful and happy; they are my inspiration. -Natasha Smith

Help Power the PromiseJan_spotlight_frame

My experience working with Komen Austin has made me understand this quote: “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” – Mother Theresa

Komen Austin allowed me to see that even the smallest act of kindness or service is important. One of the best parts about volunteering with Komen Austin is that you can choose what type of volunteering you would like to do. Whether you want to volunteer in the office, at a fundraising event, or at an information booth, you can find the right volunteer job that fits your schedule and interests. But, the best part about volunteering for Komen Austin is the amazing new environment you encounter. The people that you meet, the stories you hear, the laughs and cries you share, the experiences and moments you create and the hearts you touch are indescribable. Volunteer with Komen Austin today. – Jan Winkelmann

Email us at volunteer@komenaustin.org for more information about volunteering or visit here.

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