Breast Cancer Month

Health disparities make it tough for local cancer patients

CREATED Oct 6, 2011

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  • UW-Milwaukee Prof. Sandra Millon Underwood at the far right with a cancer patient and former Green Bay Packer LeRoy Butler.

  • Sisters 4 Cure founder in Milwaukee, Phyllis Holder. Image by Photo: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

  • Flippin 4 a Cure Founder Regina Flippin in red with a cancer patient, former Green Bay Packer LeRoy Butler and another Cancer Center offical.

Our week long look at issues related to breast cancer continues as we focus on how minority women are dealt a different set of difficulties when diagnosed with the disease.  It's something known as a health disparity.  A health disparity happens when a group of people in society get an illness, like breast cancer, more often than average, and has a higher mortality rate than average.

"Milwaukee has one of the greatest areas of health disparities that there is," says Regina Flippin, a local breast cancer survivor and founder of Flippin for a Cure.

"The greatest issue is just one of fear and one of lack of information," echoes Nurse and UW-Milwaukee Professor Sandra Millon-Underwood.

Phyllis Holder of Wauwatosa is a breast cancer survivor who helped found the local chapter of Sisters 4 Cure, "I didn't go.  I had the order for the screening, mammogram, I didn't want to know."

The Office of Minority Health says black women in this country, particularly young black women, have twice the death rate of white women from breast cancer.  Those same young black women also get diagnosed later or with more aggressive and harder to treat forms of the disease; forms like 'triple negative' which Flippin says is particularly cruel to women of color, "The only thing that you can do with triple negative is chemotherapy, so the prognosis sometimes is not that good."

Holder knows what it's like to fight.  Her group Sister 4 Cure in Milwaukee is run by survivors who are black.  She says they target their help to women in the midst of the battle, "That conversation can be considered sister to sister."

The group works to educate inner city women to remove some of the health disparity issues.  Holder says she wants her hindsight to be foresight for others, "I know what it feels like when you don't want to face and dance to the music, but what you don't know is just so much more dangerous than what you need to know."

Flippin agrees that targeting women who are un-insured or under-insured is key, "You don't get the same treatment in the inner city and a lot of it is because of lack of funds, lack of knowledge, and that is not their fault."

UW-Milwaukee professor and nurse Sandra Million-Underwood tells me health providers can help by getting out of their comfort bubble, "Too often we as providers go to those safe communities, those safe havens, but that's not necessarily where the people in need are."

Millon-Underwood says minority women need to hear that screenings and treatment have advanced and, in many cases, removed the death sentence for from disease of breast cancer.   She says once they hear that message, the medical professionals need to plug minority women into places they can go to get care, "Because having the information but not having the resources to act upon is also a challenge and it adds to that disparity."

This report has focused on support groups or efforts that target black women but Metro Milwaukee also has support groups for other minorities like Hispanic women and Jewish Women.  They are committed to doing just about anything to get the health disparity numbers down.