MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Health experts at Methodist Hospital are working to address a troubling issue here in the Bluff City; a black woman with breast cancer is more than twice as likely to die as women of other races with the same disease.
Tricie Cullens can still remember the day she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went through a wave of emotions.
"It's been a lot of lot of bad days," she said.
However on this day, she sits thankful and with a renewed spirit. A year since that diagnosis she's in remission, and on the road to a full recovery.
"I tell women all the time just because you hear cancer - breast cancer - that is not a death sentence, it's not a death sentence."
Unfortunately her story is not common among a vast number of black women here in Memphis. According to a recent study of the 25 largest cities in the U.S., Memphis topped the list with the greatest racial disparity: black women are two times more likely to die than women of other races from breast cancer.
Dr. Teresa Cutts with Methodist is part of a team looking into these disparities, thanks to a nearly $200,000 grant from the Susan G. Komen Foundation. According to the research, on average one African-American woman a week dies in Memphis due to issues such as not having prevention services and a lack of access to health care..
"You don't have to die from breast cancer if you catch it soon enough," said Dr. Cutts. "They may know they have something going on, they may have noticed a lump, but if you don't have health care insurance and you don't have a way to pay for it it's easier to deny it - it's easier to say I don't know what I would do if I did have cancer."
Through the grant, Methodist developed partnerships with community and faith-based organizations throughout the city aimed at connecting to the underserved.
Carole Dickens serves as the liaison between Methodist and these groups. She says the key is developing those trusted relationships and engaging women who otherwise, quite frankly, will simply ignore their health.
"We have created a major network to identify these ladies and try to prevent anyone from falling through the cracks," she said. "The earlier you know about a disease such as this the better the prognosis or the outcome is."
As for Cullens, she hopes her story will serve as an inspiration to others, urging that women get checked.
"I tell everybody, look at me now. I'm a witness to a lot of women at this point."
Researchers at Methodist say the ultimate goal of the program is to not only save lives, but to build healthier communities through outreach and education.
For more information about the breast cancer research program at Methodist and details on how you can get involved, you can contact Carole Dickens at (901) 516-8029 or email@example.com