October 29, 2007

Hispanic women pass along breast cancer awareness

PIERSON -- It works like a chain letter: Twelve Pierson Hispanic women identify a dozen others to pass on a message they believe will help save their lives -- examine yourselves for breast cancer.

Some have talked to women during weekend family get-togethers, at bus stops and outside their children's school.

Ana Bolanos, executive director of the Alianza de Mujeres Activas (Alliance of Active Women) in Seville, said the group is finding alternative methods to help migrants take charge of their own health. Latino immigrant women often lack health insurance, face language barriers and tend to get diagnosed at later stages.

"These women are vocal. They'll speak to everyone," said Bolanos, one of the organizers of the breast cancer awareness program. "One of them is even talking to men about it."

On Saturday, a dozen women from Seville and surrounding areas will be awarded a certificate for completing a monthlong program on how to speak to women about breast cancer, how to teach others to self-examine, and how to recruit others for similar training.

The group also will unveil two bilingual foto-novelas, comic book-style magazines used to illustrate real-life experiences. One of them, "El susto de Marta," or "Marta's Scare," chronicles the emotions one woman goes through after she finds a lump in her breast.

Bolanos said the breast cancer program started after she conducted a survey among farmworker women about what they knew about breast cancer.

Many knew very little, including the need to get an annual mammogram.

Yet many knew someone with breast cancer.

"Their concern was on the top of their list, along with domestic violence. We knew we needed to do something about that," said Robin Lewy, director of development with the Rural Women Health Project.

With a grant from the Florida office of the American Cancer Society, the Health Project and the Alliance began the training. Lewy said her group is helping other farmworker communities in other counties and in Kentucky.

Bolanos said the women used a prosthesis in the shape of a breast so they'd know what a potentially dangerous lump feels to the touch. They were also taught, for example, to pay attention to subtle changes that can signal early breast cancer.

"They find out what it's supposed to feel like inside their breasts. Their fingers will feel small lumps. They're supposed to find them in the prosthesis," Bolanos said.

Lewy said the program's goal is to have participants become part of the instruction and share the knowledge with their peers.

"It's the 'each one teach one' approach. When you learn something, pass it on," Lewy said.