Living Cancer Out Loud: The Coalition of Blacks Against Breast Cancer (CBBC) in Arizona

According to the American Cancer Society, early screening and diagnosis for breast cancer saves thousands of lives every year. But, within the Phoenix Metropolitan Area, women who are black or of African descent are diagnosed with early stages of breast cancer far less often than Caucasian women. And, in 2009, black women were diagnosed with stage 4 (metastatic) breast cancer twice as often as other ethnic groups. It’s no wonder that breast cancer survival in African-American women lags behind other ethnic groups in the U.S.

Two Mayo Clinic employees with different job descriptions, but similar interests, decided to tackle this disparity after a conversation in 2009. Marion Kelly, Public Affairs, and Michele Halyard, M.D., Radiation Oncology, realized that there was no organization devoted to support for black men and women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. They also saw a need within the black community for increased information about breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and prevention.

“I would see African-American patients with breast cancer,” says Dr. Halyard. “They wanted to talk with other people that looked like them about aspects of the disease — how do I care for my skin or my hair, for instance — and to share their stories, but didn’t know where to go.”

Kelly and Dr. Halyard gathered their collective forces — Mayo Clinic, the Phoenix Chapter of the Links, Incorporated, and the Gamma Mu Boule of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity — and set to solve the problem. Their first outreach program in 2009 reached 100 men and women with education on breast cancer screening, diagnosis, treatment and stories from breast cancer survivors. “People said, ‘This is the first chance we’ve had to talk about breast cancer in the black community,’” says Kelly. “’We have to continue in some way.’”

So, Kelly and Dr. Halyard called a gathering of 75 leaders in the African Descendant/black community, and, with the support of Mayo Clinic and several other organizations, the Coalition of Blacks Against Breast Cancer (CBBC) launched in January 2011.

The CBBC’s mission is to provide high-quality, reliable information within a safe and supportive environment, for black breast cancer survivors (defined as anyone who has breast cancer from the time of diagnosis through their lifetime) within the Phoenix Metropolitan area, and educate the black community about breast cancer prevention, diagnosis and screening. The CBBC is the only group in the Phoenix metro area that provides high-quality information, support and other resources to assist breast cancer survivors and educate the community on screening, diagnosis and treatment.

“We come from a place of strength and survival,” says Kelly. “Coming from a place of success makes people less afraid to share their stories and helps us talk more openly about cancer in the black community.”

The CBBC meets every third Sunday from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. MST at the Cancer Support Community. Share your story at a meeting or on the CBBC site, and discover other ways to support the CBBC’s efforts.

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