By Gail H.M. Brown, Ph.D.,
It’s not a cannon but fights just as hard. It’s not a torpedo but knows its target. What is it?
It is the huge, pink and green, 3D breast-cancer-fighting machine of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
In kicking off October as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the sorority has gone full throttle in providing information on the importance of early detection as well as free screening for this disease which impacts more than 2 million Americans annually.
This week, Oct. 4-6, the AKA’s 3D mobile mammography unit returned to the Mississippi Delta on another mission of the sorority’s Mississippi Health Project (MHP). The project is a part of the organization’s international community service program.
In June, International President and CEO Dr. Glenda Glover and a team of local partners focused their Delta mission on COVID-19 vaccination outreach.
On Monday, Oct. 4, its MHP breast cancer awareness three-day event was held from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the Dr. Arenia C. Mallory Community Health Center in Lexington, Miss. and the Walgreens at 700 W. Park Ave. in Greenwood, Miss.
On Tuesday, Oct. 5, the sorority’s MHP event was held at the B. B. King Museum in Indianola and the Greenville Mall, Greenville, Miss. It culminated Wednesday, Oct. 6 at the Delta Health Center in Mound Bayou, Miss.
The event included a panel discussion, free mammogram screenings, free COVID-19 screenings and vaccinations, flu shots, HIV testing, vital sign screenings, and eye exams. Individuals who received vaccinations and mammograms had the opportunity to enter a drawing for a flat-screen television.
“Our connection to black residents of the Mississippi Delta goes back to the 1930s and 1940s. Back then, the sorority launched its first Summer School for Rural Teachers, a program created in Lexington to improve the educational skills among black teachers,” explains Glover.
“Quickly, the leadership of the sorority recognized the lack of access to quality healthcare for black families in that region of the country and needed to take priority. This set us on a trajectory to open community health clinics that offered vaccinations and medical care for children and families. The Mississippi Health Project (MHP) was born out of necessity and a call to serve,” stated Glover.
While AKA International was in the Mississippi delta, other AKA chapters were kicking off the breast cancer awareness month with various observances and activities, including the Beta Delta Omega Chapter of Jackson, Miss. The more than 300-membership chapter held a virtual Breast Cancer Awareness Impact Day forum, Monday, Oct. 4, at 7:08 p.m. CST via zoom.
Panelists included Erika Tanner, MD, obstetrician and gynecologist; Andrienne Russell, RN, patient navigator – Breast Health; and Vinnie Beckley, MSN, PMHNP-BC, psychiatric nurse practitioner.
Eleven-year breast cancer overcomer, Pastor Audrey Lynne Hall, district director, U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division, Jackson, Miss. served as moderator.
“Early detection and prompt treatment saves lives. It certainly did for me,” said Beckley. Beckley is also a survivor who had been diagnosed two different times, each breast respectively. “A diagnosis of breast cancer is not a death sentence. Get a good support system,” she told the virtual audience of roughly 100 participants. “I rallied the prayer warriors. Soror Audrey, you were one of them who sent me scriptures and prayers”
Tanner, a Clinton native, reiterated the importance of early screening and detection. “There are many moving parts to this topic,” she said. Tanner stressed asking patients “appropriate” questions about their family history. She pointed out that it is essential to know whether a patient is high risk based on family history.
Russell concurred and advised that no one should be “scared” to share their family history.
Another factor that Tanner stressed was the continual importance of self-breast exams. “They refer to it now as self-breast awareness,” she said.
Russell, who serves at the Mississippi Baptist Medical Center, shared that, “Not all breast cancer patients have to undergo chemotherapy.” There are a number of determining factors. She also shared that when a patient receives a diagnosis, depending on the nature or the type of breast cancer, the patient may decide to receive a lumpectomy or a mastectomy with the option for reconstructive surgery. She also shared a wealth of other detailed information.
As each speaker presented, the Chat Box was filled with questions and compliments as to what a very informative forum it was.
The three-day event also included an AKA health forum that focused on breast cancer awareness and the continued fight against COVID-19 in the black community and underserved populations.
Healthcare professionals and Walgreens executive management and pharmacist discussed the importance and misinformation regarding the vaccine and why African-American women still die at an alarming rate with breast cancer even as technology has improved.
“It is a good thing we know so much about it now so we can use those things we learn [through research] to guide [breast cancer] treatment,” concluded Russell.