Two breast cancer survivors are striving to raise breast health awareness among Black women.
Anita T. Conner and her daughter Kerri Conner Matchett are the driving forces behind of the Praise is the Cure (PITC) 14th annual Week of Hope, Health & Healing. The series of events are designed to raise breast cancer awareness and provide support for women from underserved populations.
“In celebration of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we put on this week of hope, health and healing and we actually do events that really embrace our entire mission — educating and providing mammograms and screenings as well as intervention — celebrating and supporting breast cancer patients, survivors and their families,” Conner said.
The 21-year breast cancer survivor founded the Praise is the Cure initiative in 2005.
“Our mission is to eliminate the breast cancer disparities among Black women. We are still dying at greater rates than any other ethnic group,” Conner said.
She cited statistics from the American Cancer Society that show the death rate for Black women is 42 percent higher than for white women.
PITC's week of activities kicked off on Sept. 29, which was observed as Praise Sunday. As part of this year’s effort to raise awareness in the community, educational literature on metastatic breast cancer (MBC) was disseminated to 50 participating churches. MBC is defined by the spread of cancer beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes to non-adjacent organs such as the lung, liver, bones and brain.
“It’s affecting women under the age of 40,” said Conner-Matchett, who is a two time 11-year survivor of breast cancer.
When she was 33, she received an initial diagnosis of Stage III breast cancer. Nine years later, her cancer spread and Conner-Matchett was diagnosed with MBC.
“It’s very scary for us because right now doctors don’t recommend that you get a mammogram under the age of 40,” she said.
“We have to educate our young women about the disease and tell them to take care of themselves. Education really is the key to fighting this disease. It’s early detection and it’s education.”
Activities continue on Oct. 5, which is observed as Super Saturday. The full day of events for women, men and children will be held at Mt. Airy Church of God in Christ, 6401 Ogontz Ave. The day includes a community health fair held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., a Men's Health Forum and Tailgate Party held from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., a Pamper Party for breast cancer patients and survivors held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and a gospel concert featuring award-winner Richard Smallwood held from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.
The week of activities wraps up with a benefit concert featuring the Grace Dance Theater of Philadelphia held from 4 to 6 p.m. on Oct. 6 at the Kurtz Center for the Performing Arts, 3000 Schoolhouse Lane.
Yaasmiyn Stradford, a 36-year-old breast cancer survivor, looks forward participating in the Super Saturday events. The resident of East Oak Lane was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 21.
"I think it was divine intervention because I was so young and I wasn't even thinking about breast cancer," Stradford said.
"I happened to be at work leaning on a partition and I had discharge from my nipple and it had blood in it. That's what led me to go to the doctor and that's what saved my life."
Stradford underwent chemotherapy and received a double mastectomy. Now she wants other women to know that there is life beyond breast cancer.
"I went through it and I moved on," said the mother of four children. "I want to put that out there. It doesn't mean that you have to automatically give up. There is life after diagnosis. You have to want it though."
Super Saturday is sponsored by Keystone First, the largest Medical Assistance product in southeastern Pennsylvania. Through the partnership with PITC, Keystone is transporting women residing at transitional facilities to participate in the day's activities.
"This gave us an opportunity to partner with them, to not only be able to celebrate with the survivors but also to say that it's important that you take good care of yourself, that you see your doctor regularly, that you get your mammogram and early detection really does save lives," said Meg Grant, spokeswoman for Keystone First.
"In our mission to work to reduce health disparities, we really try to help ensure that everyone has equal access to quality health care."