October 30, 2017
Written by Katie Kuhn, United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In observance, we are proud to highlight a new partner, ABCD: After Breast Cancer Diagnosis (or “ABCD”), which recently received funding through the Waukesha Community Impact Fund for Nuestra Conexión, a program focused on outreach to the Latina community.
ABCD: After Breast Cancer Diagnosis is a Milwaukee-based organization with the goal of nurturing hope and restoring confidence in all those affected by breast cancer. To do this, ABCD matches participants with mentors who have had a similar breast cancer experience.
“We believe that a connected life is an empowered, healthier life,” says Executive Director Ellen Friebert Schupper, “Mentorship makes a huge difference for those going through breast cancer – they are more likely to finish treatment, have improved survival rates and reduced rates of recurrence, report reduced stress, improved relationships and quality of life.”
“These connections matter!” says Ellen.
When matching participants and mentors, ABCD’s staff takes many factors into consideration. First, they try and learn more about who the participant is as a person, and what their experience with breast cancer has been, including diagnosis and treatment plans. “Someone who was recently diagnosed and who has little familial support is very different from someone with multiple diagnoses and a large support network,” says Ellen.
Some participants and mentors talk on the phone once per week, others less frequently and others develop into lifelong friendships. All relationships are begun over the phone, but sometimes matches meet in person.
Ellen tells the story of one participant who was diagnosed at 77 years of age, and matched with a survivor who was also diagnosed in her 70s. After speaking on the phone, the ladies agreed to meet for coffee. At this meeting, they discovered they had gone to the same high school and made plans to share their yearbook.
ABCD currently has 275 active, professionally trained mentors. All are ready to be matched with a participant in a moment of need, and are able to listen and share words of encouragement and hope.
When applying for funding through United Way to expand their outreach into the Latina community, Ellen and her team were deliberate in the wording they used: “Our understanding of the cultural barriers and diversity in the Latina community will help us deliver needed information on survivorship and breast health education in a comprehensive, culturally sensitive platform,’” says Ellen.
Minerva Cornejo, Nuestra Conexión Outreach Manager at ABCD, is a breast cancer survivor herself. “I had a great support network…that is not the experience for others. In working with the Latina community, we grapple with both language and cultural barriers. Those who need help most may not know they have resources available or could be undocumented and nervous to reach out.”
ABCD is one of the only breast cancer peer-to-peer support groups with the resources to reach the Latina community. With increased funding from United Way, not only will they be able to translate all resources and trainings into Spanish, but Minerva will be able to spend more time on this project close to her heart.
“Being raised in the central city, I understand that there are so many other factors that could be barriers to effective treatment,” says Minerva. “In the Latina community, you have to build trust. Unless you’ve been through it, you won’t understand.”
“United Way is proud to support ABCD’s Latina Initiative in Waukesha County,” says Nicole Angresano, VP of Community Impact at United Way. “While Latina incidence of breast cancer is lower than that of Caucasians and African Americans, they have an inordinately high rate of late diagnosis and mortality. Peer support has been shown to positively impact patient participants in a number of ways, including treatment compliance—and it is imperative that such support services are both available in Spanish and are culturally relevant.”
As part of their outreach efforts, Minerva and team make sure to be visible at community fairs and events, with the goal of recruiting participants, Spanish-speaking mentors, and volunteers to help build capacity. “We need to let people know there are resources, this is what you need to do to advocate for yourself, to connect the dots. To do that, we need to be in the community.”
“We are grateful to United Way for helping us expand our outreach efforts,” says Ellen. “When we focus on where the needs are, that’s when great things happen.”
Learn more about ABCD: After Breast Cancer Diagnosis and United Way’s other investments in health.