Stacie Knock waited a year before seeking treatment for an unusual lump in her breast. Knock said she was terrified, but because she didn’t have health insurance, she didn’t see a doctor.
That was two years ago, and because she was 37 at the time, she had not yet had a mammogram, which is recommended at age 40.
While Knock did eventually receive treatment for stage III breast cancer and is alive today to tell her story, it could have ended differently. Early stage cancers have a better prognosis than later stages.
That’s why West Side health professionals encourage women to take advantage of available resources to catch cancer early and increase the chances of survival.
“It’s not typical that women under 40 would get breast cancer. If they do, it tends to be a very aggressive type of cancer, so that’s why we’re really encouraging women with this whole breast health effort to just really pay attention,” said Carole Brite, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois.
A recent American Association for Cancer Research study found that African-American women have a 48 percent greater chance of dying from the disease within the first three years than white women, and Brite says the rate is unusually high in Chicago.
“There’s a really strange phenomenon in Chicago. The breast cancer mortality rate for black women is higher here in Chicago than anywhere else in the country,” Brite said.
Like Knock, many women don’t seek screening. That’s why health organizations on the West Side, including Planned Parenthood’s Austin Health Center, the Westside Health Authority and Loretto Hospital, are offering free mammograms or referring women to places that offer the service.
“It is really important for the Austin community that women have access to clinical breast exams and mammography because of the fact that death rate among African-American women is so much higher,” Brite said.
The Metropolitan Chicago Breast Cancer Task Force is offering the first 500 women of color free mammograms during the month of November. Appointments are required, and more information is available at the web site.
Planned Parenthood’s Austin Health Center, 5937 West Chicago Ave., offers breast exams and refers women for mammograms to one of their diagnostic partners, such as West Town Neighborhood Health Center, 2418 W. Division St. This center offers free mammograms for women over 40.
The Westside Health Authority’s Every Woman Counts! Breast Health Program was funded to help educate and empower women on Chicago’s West Side about early detection. The organization works closely with women from Austin and the East and West Garfield Park neighborhoods, stepping in as a navigator for access to health care for free or low-cost screening, mammograms and follow-up services.
The Westside Health Authority’s Department of Health Promotion works closely with women 40 and older, who are either uninsured or underinsured.
“When they go to the doctor, they only have a limited amount of time to even interact with a doctor,” said Odette Alleyne, program coordinator for breast and health.
“I get them into a room together, and we talk about the myths, the facts, the do’s, the don’ts,” Alleyne said.
The program recruits women through outreach events, such as health fairs and workshops, and brings them together in a comfortable environment where they can discuss their fears and have breast health questions addressed.
Many black women tell the center they waited to get a mammogram because they were afraid, Alleyne said.
Alleyne said the facility hosts monthly workshops, special events and free transportation to hospitals for health screenings.
She also puts together a trip called Mammogram Day for the women to visit hospitals outside their neighborhood.
“I take the women to hospitals outside the neighborhood, just so they get a different feel of how the different hospitals operate,” Alleyne said.
Alleyne said taking women to other hospitals puts them in a different environment and helps them relax.
“Taking them as a group kind of allows them to not have that fear that most of the women, the minority woman, have regarding mammograms,” she said.
Dr. Sandy Goldberg of A Silver Lining Foundation has recently partnered with Loretto Hospital, 645 S. Central Ave., to increase breast health awareness. She said women who do not have insurance or are underinsured can qualify for free mammograms all year long. Women under 40, who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, need a note from their primary care physician.
Stacie Knock encourages women to schedule check-ups before they turn 40 because in her case, age did not stop the cancer cells from forming. She said if you find a lump, go to a doctor immediately.
Knock said it was a boyfriend who confirmed she did have an unusual lump.
“If I had not had that man in my life, who was familiar with me, I probably would have found out later, to be honest. I was afraid of this,” Knock said.
When she knew she could not wait any longer, she went to Planned Parenthood because after moving back from California to Illinois, she no longer met her health insurance requirements.
“I sat on it for a year…. I sat on it for awhile because I was scared to death,” she said.
After Knock’s visit to Planned Parenthood, she had her first mammogram and then a biopsy to diagnose the cancer. Knock had a single mastectomy, in addition to radiation and chemotherapy treatments, which she completed in January. She’s also required to take medication to control her estrogen levels every day for five years. Knock said without this treatment, she could be dead.
“Do not be paralyzed in fear. Knowledge is power; [that’s] what my momma has always taught me. That is the truth. If I had gone in the year before, maybe I wouldn’t have had to have a year and a half of chemotherapy. I procrastinated because I was scared, and the reality is, it grew to Stage III in the meantime,” she said.
- Planned Parenthood’s Austin Health Center, (773) 287-2020
- Westside Health Authority, (773) 786-0249
- Loretto Hospital, (773)-626-4300
- A Silver Lining Foundation, (312) 345-1322
- West Town Neighborhood Health Center, (312) 666-3494
- Metropolitan Chicago Breast Cancer Task Force, (312) 942-1899