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Diana Pando

The Resurrection Project

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Latinas and Breast Cancer: What You Need to Know

02/01/2015 12:18PM | 14159 views

Maria Medina, a breast cancer survivor, used to travel to the north side of Chicago by bus to participate in breast cancer education programs. However, it became difficult for her to keep up with the schedule and the long travel times, and eventually had to stop attending her breast cancer support group. When she did, she lost access to a wealth of information about the disease she was combating, and the vital support that comes from being with fellow patients and survivors.

Maria is not unlike many Latinas with breast cancer who, because of cultural, language, and geographical barriers, are often left out of mainstream health care initiatives. It’s people like Maria that inspired a group of Latinas in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood to form a breast cancer awareness and support group: ELLAS (En La Lucha A Sobrevivir, or In the Fight to Survive.)

Obtaining resources for breast cancer patients is challenging for most women. The Latina community encounters additional obstacles to resources, care, and support, including a lack of information in Spanish, transportation, childcare during appointments, a culturally safe space for support groups, and funds to cover costs of medication.

Yet according to recent studies, Latinas have a higher breast cancer mortality rate. “Breast cancer is still the most common cancer among Latina women,” says Yolanda Cardenas, M.D., a local family doctor in the Latino community. “Screening rates are often lower among Latinas because of limited access to insurance and healthcare. However, mammogram screening is very important because Latinas tend to be diagnosed at a younger age, at later stage of disease, and with larger, higher grade tumors.”

Many Latina women do not know where to go for breast cancer screenings and this is where ELLAS steps in. ELLAS, a program offered by The Resurrection Project, works year-round beyond Breast Cancer Awareness month to educate Latinas on preventionand to support women diagnosed with breast cancer.

“ELLAS is unique because this group is not only for survivors but also for volunteers,” says Araceli Lucio, Health Advocate for The Resurrection Project. “Our goal is to these women access to resources for their recovery and help them return to a normal life by providing educational workshops and crafts classes.” The women receive childcare, cooking, and cleaning support from other women who do not have breast cancer but still want to help.

While Latinas are becoming more aware of breast cancer, sometimes they are not comfortable communicating issues they are having with their physician, and this delays critical breast cancer screenings. That’s why ELLAS also gives breast cancer survivors a safe space where they can share their experiences in Spanish and support each other through their recovery process. It’s already made a difference for people like Maria, who no longer face language or cultural barriers when confronting this disease. 

 “Breast cancer changes your life,” says Maria, “and going to a support group helps reenergize you by allowing you to talk to others because you can’t always share these things with your family and cause them to worry.”

 To help people like Maria, ELLAS is expanding its services and programming, and now offers the following:

  • Treatments for those who don’t have medical insurance and have a breast cancer diagnosis.
  • Free mammograms and pap smears, prosthetics, bras, make up, and wigs.
  • Free transportation to the hospital.
  • Babysitting options if the patient has kids and needs to go to a doctor’s appointment.
  • Medical materials.
  • Free computer classes.

This month ELLAS members will campaign every Sunday inside the churches in Pilsen and Little Village to sell pins and bracelets to collect money to off-set the cost of medication and chemotherapy sessions for some of their members.

If you would like more information on exams, treatments, events, or making a donation, please contact Araceli Lucio at 312-880-1888 or connect with ELLAS on Facebook.



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