Southwest resident Carla D. Williams believes that it was an experience in her own family that unconsciously became the impetus for “Women of Promise,” an ambassador program to get more women screened for breast cancer. Not long ago, an aunt had detected a lump in her breast but didn’t do anything about it or even tell family members. “We still to this day don’t know why she didn’t go to a doctor when she saw the lump,” said Williams, PhD, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor of Medicine at Howard University College of Medicine and Howard University Hospital. Williams pondered that perhaps, being unable to face the possibility of cancer, her aunt had hoped it was something else and that it would just go away on its own. But it wasn’t, and it didn’t. Her aunt had a mastectomy and survived for two years before succumbing to breast cancer.

Today, Williams hopes Women of Promise, a program funded by the Susan G. Komen for the Cure and based in the Howard University Cancer Center, will change such behavior, behavior that she noted is still prevalent among too many African-Americans in the Washington area. Women of Promise seeks 200 women to act as ambassadors to talk with women across the District, but particularly in the historically underserved communities, about the importance of early screening and mammograms. The ambassadors will stress the American Cancer Society guidelines for women over 40 to have mammograms annually. The program will be seeking, particularly, women ages 20-74 that haven’t been screened in the past two years. The ambassadors will be trained and equipped with actionable information on breast cancer risk factors, screening recommendations, and local resources. For example, women who earn up to 250 percent of the poverty level ($44,700 for a household of four) can have a free mammogram at participating hospitals. Additionally, free and low cost mammography programs are available during the Rosemary Williams Mammoday program at the Howard University Cancer Center. After identifying the targeted population, the ambassadors will follow up to make sure the women have mammograms. “The goal of the two-year program is to reach over 2,800 women within a two-year period,” Williams said. “Early detection is the key when it comes to breast cancer. Unfortunately, in the District, black women are more likely to present at a more advanced stage of breast cancer compared to white women. Catching it sooner will help women have a better outcome and a better chance of survival,” Williams said. In terms of the impact, the program is expected to produce a sustainable, self-propagating resource to provide socially, culturally and linguistically tailored information to women.  The educational content is intended to reduce confusion about recommendation and promote taking action to get routine breast cancer screenings.

The next two trainings for Women of Promise are scheduled for Saturday, December 8, 2012 and Saturday, January 12, 2013, at 8:30 am to 12:30 at Howard University Cancer Center.  To apply for Women of Promise or to get more information about the program, call 202-806-5721 or email twanna.spurgeon@howard.edu.

By Thelma D. Jones, a breast cancer survivor, community breast care navigator for Smith Center for Healing and the Arts and a certified breast health educator for the American Cancer Society.

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