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Black Women Provide Support In Breast Cancer Fight

Stephanie Daniel
Diane Simpson, Reverend Naomi Harris and Tracey Drayton attend Pink Sunday at Shorter Community AME Church

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and during the second Sunday, it was Pink Sunday at Shorter Community AME Church in Denver. Tracey Drayton, who leads the church's breast cancer ministry, spoke to the congregation. She informed them about an important fact: the mortality rate for black women in Colorado is nearly 30 percent higher than white women.

"Why are women, black women dying more than white women?" said Drayton.

Susan G. Komen is a breast cancer organization that provides funding for research and community grants to ensure access to screening, diagnostics and treatment for women and men. The organization has found that black women have a higher mortality rate due to certain factors including diagnosis at a younger age, a later stage of the disease and a more aggressive form of the cancer.

Black woman may face other barriers like lack of insurance, money for treatment or child care to attend doctor visits.

Jill Fricker, CEO of Komen Colorado, said people should also consider the systematic issues surrounding health disparities.

"I think black women don't always feel comfortable going to a doctor's office where all white employees work," she said. "I think there's still some institutional racism that black women face as they navigate the system."

Credit Stephanie Daniel / KUNC
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

To help black women handle the issues surrounding a breast cancer diagnosis, Komen Colorado formed an African American Advisory Council in 2012. The Council advises, organizes and implements outreach in the African American community. It also provides services like doctor referrals, mammograms and financial assistance.

There are 14 women on the council including Tracey Drayton and Mabel Peters.

"Early detection is the best detection," said Peters.

The African American Advisory Council also facilitates events throughout the year including Pink Sunday. The initiative brings breast health awareness to faith-based communities like Shorter Community AME Church.

Diane Simpson is a two-time breast cancer survivor. She attended Shorter's Pink Sunday service. Simpson was diagnosed the first time in 1992 when she was 39-years-old and in the process of adopting her daughter.

"I felt so devasted, just in terms of the physical effects," said Simpson "Being told I would lose my hair because of chemotherapy and so really most of my support came from my oncologist."

Credit Stephanie Daniel / KUNC
Shorter Community AME Church provides a table full of breast health awareness materials for congregants during October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

In the early 2000s Simpson and about six other survivors founded the breast cancer ministry at Shorter. The purpose was to come together and support those who are going through a diagnosis and educate not only church members but the larger community.

"I believe we really filled a void during those early years, and so people were able to come to us or people who were diagnosed or their family members would call us," said Simpson.

Credit Stephanie Daniel / KUNC
Survivor Tracey Drayton leads the breast cancer ministry at Shorter Community AME Church.

When the breast cancer returned in 2015, the breast ministry was there for her. It provided her with the support she wished she'd had the first time around.

"Many people came to me and helped me and my family to get through that very stressful time," said Simpson. "I'm just so grateful to have survived twice."

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