By Southwester Staff

The Thelma D. Jones Breast Cancer Fund (TDJBCF) kicked off the FDA Oncology Center of Excellence’s (FDA-OCE) Project Community Initiative “National Black Family Cancer Awareness Week: Engaging the Generations” (June 17 – June 23, 2021) at its June Support Group meeting. The Breast Cancer Fund’s’s effort dovetailed the FDA-OCE Initiative’s commitment to raising awareness of cancer in one of the most vulnerable populations in the country, a population that the TDJBCF’s embraces on a grassroots level locally in Southwest, as well as nationally and globally. 

The meeting was emceed by Andrea Roane, a former WUSA9 TV news anchor and breast health advocate (Roane emceed a Support Group meeting back in June of 2019, too). TDJBCF Founder Thelma D. Jones provided welcome remarks followed by Emcee Roane’s introduction to the Project Community Initiative National Black Family Cancer Awareness Week video – highlights of the meeting can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/PcjWPeAx1Rc

In the video, Rea Blakey, an associate director for external outreach and engagement at the FDA (she also leads Project Community), lauded the Breast Cancer Fund for being a vital stakeholder for many years. Emcee Roane then shared her overall cancer advocacy work, including the popular WUSA Buddy Check9, a program which encourages women to do breast self-exams and remind “a buddy” to do the same. She also shared the devastating impact that cancer had on her family, including her spouse, son, and two brothers-in-law – one of which succumbed to his own diagnosis. 

Starting the line-up of speakers was Professor of Oncology Dr. Lucile Adams-Campbell, Professor of Oncology at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and Associate Director for Minority Health at the Georgetown University Medical Center, among other titles. Dr. Adams-Campbell set the tone for the meeting, telling the audience of the importance of reducing the burden of cancer for the Black community by “talking the talk and walking the walk.” She spoke on the importance of mammography and screening but emphasized that adherence is equally important. 

“Follow the guidelines and get this embedded into your thinking as every year routine,” Dr. Adams-Campbell said. She further discussed the challenges of structural racism, the disparities it continues to create, and how Black people are often regarded as the problem because not enough of us are at the table. 

In addition, Dr. Adams-Campbell shared that National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins issued an apology for what he called “structural racism in biomedical research” and pledged to address it with a sweeping set of actions. “To those individuals in the biomedical research enterprise who have endured disadvantages due to structural racism, I am truly sorry,” Collins said in his apology. 

Dr. Adams-Campbell also shared that only 2% of Black people apply for any NIH grants but only 1% are funded and that a much “bigger and broader pipeline” needs to be built. Repeating an earlier comment, Dr. Adams-Campbell said, “Invite us to the table so that we can contribute, and we guarantee that we know a lot more about our health than others do.”

Guest Speaker Crystal T. Dixon, Assistant Professor, Health and Exercise Science at Wake Forest University, discussed her ACCURE Study in a presentation entitled “Seeking Health Equity: Examining Racism as a Social Determinant of Health.” Her presentation highlighted the groundbreaking research of the Greensboro Health Disparities Collaborative. The research was based on a five-year, multi-state study that implemented system-based intervention involving technology and other tools to address systemic racism impacting African American breast and lung cancer patients in the healthcare system. 

Complementing her presentation, she shared a definition of racism created by Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones: 

Racism is defined as a system of structuring opportunity and assigning value based on the social interpretation of how one looks (which is what we call ‘race’), that unfairly disadvantages some individuals and communities, unfairly advantages other individuals and communities, and saps the strength of the whole society through the waste of human resources. 

Overall, the study’s focus was to determine what systemic issues are creating inequities in the healthcare system and how they can be addressed. “Systemic racism is a public health crisis,” said Professor Dixon. The full presentation as well as the entire meeting can be seen here (https://fb.watch/v/1KCOqo47T/) and on the Facebook page (https://fb.watch/v/1KCOqo47T/). 

Emcee Roane introduced the FamiliesSHARES, which is a collaboration between NIH and Georgetown University Lombardi Cancer Center. The program’s goal is to have a conversation about the family history of certain common diseases affecting Black families. It provides information that will allow researchers to create a family history chart that individuals can use; it also provides people with a customized workbook that has information about common diseases such as breast cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc. The study collaborators feel the workbook will facilitate conversations amongst Black families about their family history, as well as keep a record of common diseases that can be shared with healthcare providers. 

Over the course of the meeting, several speakers who share partnership or collaborative efforts with the TDJBCF, updated the audience on their efforts, which included:

Dr. Ione D. Vargus, Author and Founder, Family Reunion Institute (Philadelphia, PA) discussed her book Black Family Reunions: Finding the Rest of Me – a tribute to and celebration of family reunions and the purposes and benefits of family reunions as well as the many aspects of family reunion planning. Dr. Vargus was accompanied by her son Bill Vargus, a former sportscaster for FOX in Philadelphia.

Dr. Simina Boca, Adjunct Associate Professor Georgetown University Medical Center (Recorded) discussed the study on the “Experience of Black/African American and Latina Breast Cancer Survivors in the Washington, DC region during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The study examined how the pandemic disproportionately affected the targeted audience because of their vulnerable state. Eighty-four survivors shared their experience for the study. Dr. Boca indicated that a website is being created to reflect the data derived from the study. Both the TDJBCF and Nueva Vida are community partners in this effort.

Dr. Chiranjeev Dash, MBBS, Ph.D, Assistant Director of Health Disparities Research, Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center expanded on the importance of FamiliesSHARE, which enables doctors to have a better understanding of a patient’s health history. He also spoke about the Georgetown/Howard University partnership study on “Disparities in Chronic Stress, Quality of Life and Physical Activity among Black and White breast cancer survivors.” The study is a collaborative effort between Howard University and Georgetown University and is designed to help better understand how breast cancer survivors are coping with stress and examining the correlation of stress and breast cancer outcomes.

Attorney LaRuby Z. May, Managing Member, May Lightfoot PLLC talked about the Zantac litigation and the over-prescription of the drug to Black and Brown people and others who live in food deserts and lack accessibility to healthy food options. Zantac and the generic version known as Ranitidine were prescribed for individuals with heartburn, indigestion, acid reflux, and other digestive related issues. Zantac/Ranitidine has been shown to cause cancers, including but not limited to breast, prostate, bladder, and stomach cancers.

Dr. Carla D. Williams, the associate professor of medicine and interim Cancer Center director of Howard University, bookended Dr. Adams-Campbell’s words about the importance of being at the table in her closing remarks. Dr. Williams spoke about the importance of being a health advocate and shared her definition of health justice. “Health justice permanently corrects the conditions that have allowed health disparities, inequities, and injustice to arise and persist.” 

Encouraging the audience to become individual health advocates, she gave an empassioned call to action, “Let’s all find our roots [to be health justices]. Pick your cause [from the many injustices presented during the meeting]. What is the one thing you can work on as a root cause issue in our collective spheres of influence so that we can make these changes?”  

Dr. Williams also described the TDJBCF and its founder as “a true drum major for health justice and health equity” and praised Jones for her newsletters, which help to keep everyone informed. 

Thanks to Emcee Roane and all the speakers.The kickoff of the FDA-OCE National Black Family Cancer Awareness Week (#BlackFamCan) ended on the same high note that it started on, leaving the virtual audience with a lot of food for thought and a call to action.

Special thanks to the TDJBCF newsletter editor Lashanah Thomas, TDJBCF Ambassadors, Peri Hamlin, Jenelle Leonard, Pentandra Digital Marketing Consultants LLC, and the A-Team (Rodney Minor, executive producer, BRTV Consulting, Anthony Venuto, and Derek Tawiah).

For information regarding future meetings or the TDJBCF, contact thelma@tdjbreastcancerfund or call (202) 251-1639.

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