Breast cancer is the 2nd leading cause of death among African American women, surpassed only by lung cancer. The incidence of being diagnosed with breast cancer is 10% lower among African American women than white women and yet the mortality rate for African American women is 37% higher. Sadly, the 5-year survival rate for African American women is 77% compared to 90% for white women. This disparity is attributed to later-stage detection and unequal receipt of high-quality medical treatment, according to the American Cancer Society. Gilda’s Club South Florida (GCSF) is a free cancer support community for women, men, children, and teens with all types of cancer and their families and friends, and we have been actively seeking ways to address this healthcare disparity issue.
When GCSF determined that we needed to be more proactive in connecting women of color in Broward County to support services for cancer diagnoses, the CEO and Program Director began by brainstorming with our members at a town hall meeting. Through this member-driven process many ideas emerged, and one dynamic member, an African American woman and breast cancer survivor, volunteered to become a Member Advocate to engage women of color.
Gilda's Club South Florida (GCSF) - Fort Lauderdale, Florida, United States
Each year, GCSF facilitates a town hall meeting with its members and a strategic planning meeting with its board to identify local needs and resources. Research on local, state, and national cancer statistics and trends is conducted to provide a foundation for these conversations.
In Broward County, 1175 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. While 15% of those diagnosed will be African American women, only 7% of GCSF’s members are African American. Recognizing the disparity between the number of women of color diagnosed and the number of African Americans served at Gilda’s strengthened our resolve to engage underserved minority populations.
Gilda’s Club CEO and Program Director reached out to cancer experts, Gilda’s Club Members, to develop a plan to help us engage women of color. The group began by “keeping the end in mind.” This end was our mission “to reduce breast cancer disparities among women of color by providing them crucial prevention and educational information.” Once the mission had been established, the group’s objectives and strategies evolved naturally.
The group identified the following objectives: Engage 50 women of color for 3 lectures and increase awareness about breast cancer disparities. Strategies to achieve these objectives included: throwing a Kickoff Party at Gilda’s to generate interest, developing marketing materials, determining where and how to market the lecture series, recruiting a diverse group of medical professionals to facilitate lectures, and pinpointing dates and times for the Kickoff Party and lectures.
Once the plan was developed and our Member Advocate was in place, the 1st activity was to throw a “Women of Color Kickoff Party.” Gilda’s Club staff marketed the event through traditional avenues such as an e-blast to our current and past members, and to healthcare, corporate, and nonprofit partners. We highlighted the event on our website, Facebook page, quarterly newsletter, and displayed flyers at the Clubhouse and at local cancer centers. Our Member Advocate branched out through social networking to reach her friends, family, colleagues, and associates. Her efforts through email, Facebook, letters, presentations, and personal conversations produced tremendous results. Over 70 women of color attended the “Women of Color Kickoff Party” at Gilda’s Club. The Kickoff Party successfully mobilized a strong group of African American women to spread the word even further. The results were evident in the turnout at the lectures, which each had more than 50 women of color in attendance.
We evaluated achievement of our 1st objective, to engage women of color, through attendance records from the Kickoff and lectures. The use of a Member Advocate and other outreach efforts were deemed to be successful based on the attendance of over 70 women of color at the kickoff and 50 at each lecture.
We assessed our 2nd objective, to increase awareness about breast cancer disparity, through surveys completed at the end of each lecture. Ninety-nine percent of the participants rated the program as excellent and indicated that they would recommend it to a friend. Comments included, “I learned the importance of having frank discussions with my family about cancer history,” “It increased my awareness about breast cancer,” and “What I heard was life changing.”
The evaluation did not indicate any need for adjustments, although the success of the social networking approach has encouraged the development of a Member Advocate Group to support additional outreach efforts.
We have created a new Member Advocate group to ensure that our innovative efforts to engage underserved populations through Member Advocates and personal social networking will be sustained. Gilda’s Club is honored to have Member Advocates speak on behalf of the organization. There can be no substitute for having members share their expert knowledge about cancer and their personal stories about learning to LIVE with cancer.
This group of inspirational cancer survivors embodies the quote by Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” With the support of our Member Advocates, Gilda’s Club will expand on the successful “Out of the Box” approach as we look to engage the LGBT community and seniors touched by cancer.
Our Member Advocate, Glenda, communicated the message of breast cancer disparities through word of mouth, emails, hand written letters, and presentations. Glenda was on a mission to educate women of color about the resources available for cancer support and the importance of early detection. The message about GCSF’s upcoming culturally sensitive lectures spread like wildfire through social networking channels in the African American community which included churches, hair salons, and doctor’s offices.
Thanks to the Member Advocate social networking approach, GCSF successfully facilitated a Kickoff Party and 3 lectures on breast cancer prevention and education for women of color. A diverse group of medical professionals presented lectures entitled, “Genetics, Breast Cancer, and You,” “Okay…Breast Cancer, Now What,” and “Learn, Live, Support.” Each of the sessions attracted more than 50 women of color to Gilda’s where they got an opportunity to share their own stories, and hear those of others, as well as learn about the opportunities for support that are available to them.
Gilda's Club South Florida's Website: www.gildasclubsouthflorida.org