By Dr. Carla Anyaso.

October is “Breast Cancer Awareness Month.” According to Susan G. Komen (2020), 1 in 8 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer within their lifetime. Yet, as with many things within our country, there is a racial divide. Black and White women develop breast cancer at approximately the same rate. Yet, the death rate for Black women is 40% higher than White women. There are many reasons for this to include the fact that breast cancer is found at an earlier stage in White women (CDC, 2020).

Early detection is one of the best ways to effectively combat breast cancer. Early detection is best done by regularly completing self-breast exams. Think about it. If women wait until their annual physical or breast exam then they are only getting their breasts examined once a year. Yet, if a person completes a self-breast exam monthly, their breasts are getting examined 12 times a year. It’s a numbers game. The more you examine your breasts, the more likely you are to notice an abnormality or tumor. This practice also speaks to being familiar with one’s body and the subtle changes that may occur.

One thing to remember when completing monthly self-exams is, generally, women’s bodies undergo hormonal changes throughout the month. Hopkins Medicine (2020), recommends that women follow the following guidelines when performing self-breast exams: First, exam your breasts the same time every month to have a stable baseline. Second, use your 3 inner fingers to feel around your breasts in a circular motion starting from the outer edge of your breast located under your armpits. Third, exam your breast while laying down all the breast tissue lays flatter in that position. Fourth, report any lumps, abnormalities, redness, heated areas, or discharge from your breasts immediately to your physician. Early detection is the key to surviving breast cancer.

Lack of access to health care may be a risk factor for the 40% increased mortality rate among Black women. In Illinois there are several free resources to combat and reduce that rate. The Illinois Department of Public Health has the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program (IBCCP), which provides free mammograms, breast exams, pelvic exams and Pap tests to women who are eligible. Additionally, a woman can receive free cancer treatments through this same program if she is diagnosed and qualifies. The eligibility requirements are that women reside in Illinois, they be without insurance, and that they are 35-64 years old. Call the general information line at: 1-888-522-1282.

A second free resource for free mammograms in the City of Chicago is through the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) at Mercy Hospital and Medical Center 2525 S. Michigan Ave. Chicago, IL 60610 (312) 567-2619. They have another location at Roseland Community Hospital 45 W. 111th St. (773) 95-3094. Veteran’s in the state of Illinois have a third resource for free or reduced mammograms at a United States Veteran Affairs Hospital. In the Greater Chicagoland area, there are three VA Medical Hospitals. They are:

  • Jesse Brown VA Medical Center located at 820 S. Damen, Chicago, IL 60612 (312) 569- 8387.
  • Edward Hines Jr. VA Medical Center located 5000 5th Ave., Hines, IL 60141 (708) 202- 8387.
  • Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care located 3001 Green Bay Rd., North Chicago, IL 60064 (847) 688-1900.

Ladies, let’s start practicing better “self-care.” Setting a monthly calendar alert may be a good practice to remind ourselves to exam ourselves. We can also reduce the access to care by volunteering to take an elderly person to get their annual mammogram. 2020 has proven that when faced with a racial divide, we had the ability to stand united and strong to bring about tangible change. Let’s do it again. Complete monthly self-breast exams, utilize free/reduced resources, and schedule your annual mammogram today.

Dr. Carla Anyaso is an Educator, Public Speaker and retired Veteran of the United States Air Force. She works full-time for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers of Medicaid and Medicare Services. Remain connected with Dr. Carla by visiting her website: vetzcan.com; email: vetzcan@ gmail.com or DM her on Instagram at “ChiLadyVet.” Her Facebook group is “Candid Conversations with Dr. Carla” her purpose: To empower women striving to overcome traumatic experiences: mind, body, soul, and spirit.