Pink Converse shoes
Money from the Susan G. Komen Minnesota grant program goes toward support and research organizations that serve our state’s women and families. Here are just six, including the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic.
Support: Screening Our Most Vulnerable
Sage Breast Cancer Screening Program
$500,000 in 2013
“We screened our first Minnesota woman in January of 1992,” says GayLynn Richards, regional coordinator of the state-administered Sage Screening Program. Sage has screened 146,000 more women since, detecting 2,223 breast cancers. This year alone, with money received from the Komen Affliate, Sage will most likely detect 40 more.
These cancers will be in low-income, uninsured, or underinsured women—the most vulnerable among us. These cancers may also be in women younger than 40 who have symptoms, a first-degree relative with breast cancer, or have had breast cancer in the past. “This availability of breast services for younger women is critical,” Richards says. “Often a younger woman cannot get coverage for breast services based on her age.” Grant money from Komen Minnesota makes it possible.
Grant money also helps screen Minnesota’s African American women, through the Sisters Standing Up to Breast Cancer project, for instance. In Minnesota, breast cancer is the number one cause of death in African American women ages 35 to 45.
Support: Sustenance in Healthy Meals
Open Arms of Minnesota
$75,000 in 2013
It’s the simplest thing, making and eating a healthy meal—until you are sick. That’s when Open Arms opens refrigerators. “Appropriate nutrition is one of the most fundamental components of any medical treatment plan,” says executive director Leah Hebert. “Yet poverty, lack of support networks, and the side effects of treatment can make shopping for and preparing meals nearly impossible.”
Specific to breast cancer, Open Arms provided 60,000 healthy meals to 214 Minnesotans living with breast cancer in 2013, plus their dependents and their caregivers, all with Susan G. Komen Minnesota grant support. The meals were tailored to each individual’s illnesses and dietary needs, and they were prepared from scratch by a network of volunteers. Open Arms also delivered more than 2,000 Nausea Care Packs.
What does it mean to be able to eat healthy when you are sick with cancer? Wrote one caregiver, “If not for your delicious deliveries, my wife would have had to go into assisted living. Instead you have helped her stay independent.”
Support: Supportive, Therapeutic Community
Pathways Health Crisis Resource Center
$65,500 in 2013
Depression affects 15 to 25 percent of cancer patients. The Renewing Life program at Pathways Health Crisis Resource Center, which focuses on empowering people through a variety of healing techniques as well as supportive, therapeutic communities, addresses the spiritual repercussions of cancer that your medical doctor can’t: social isolation, depression, and hopelessness.
The three-day retreats are particularly transformative. With grant money from Susan G. Komen Minnesota, Pathways offers these retreats free to women with breast cancer and household incomes less than $40,000 and those experiencing medical hardships. There women learn how to meditate, release anger and fear, explore boundaries and forgiveness, and reframe their focus from their illness to the quality in their lives.
The outcomes on women’s souls are unique, too. Says executive director Tim Thorpe, “The retreats give women the opportunity to embrace their lives and the quality of the lives of others touched by breast cancer in a healing, experiential, and private environment.” Says one participant: “I can see how there is a promising future regardless of what happens with my disease.”
Support: Pro Bono Relief
The Breast Cancer Legal Program
$75,000 in 2013
Employment. Insurance. Disability. Foreclosure. Estate planning.
And you have cancer.
Since 2011, the Breast Cancer Legal Program has provided pro bono legal services to 300 Minnesota women affected by breast cancer and conducted many more group presentations for survivors, loved ones, and health care providers.
The average breast cancer client age is 52—prime time for working and mothering. Says founder and executive director Lindy Yokanovich, “The legal needs these women face go directly to the heart of their families’ security and stability.”
The results are life-changing, like ensuring a woman with minor children gets guardianship documents in place so she knows how those children will be cared for. Like fighting for a woman whose long-term disability insurance was terminated and winning her insurance back so she can stay in her home.
Says Yokanovich, “Doctors and nurses help with medical issues. Cancer Legal Line is here for the rest.”
Research: Phoning It In
An app for Korean American women, from the U of M, Twin Cities
$675,000 for the next three years
Across racial and ethnic groups, Korean American women have some of the highest breast cancer mortality rates—and some of the lowest screening rates.
Dr. Hee Yun Lee of the U of M, Twin Cities School of Social Work aims to eliminate such disparities, particularly for hard-to-reach immigrant populations. In 2013 she was awarded a three-year, $675,000 “Investigator-Initiative Research” grant from the national Susan G. Komen Award and Research Grants Program to study the promotion of mammograms with a mobile app.
Lee and a team developed the “mMammogram” app in Korean, specifically to address the obstacles Korean American women face in breast cancer screening. The study hopes to enroll 140 women in the Twin Cities by the end of the year to test its efficacy. If effective, Lee says, “We plan to extend this research to other racial ethnic groups—including Hmong American women or Vietnamese American women—who are also suffering heavy cancer burden.”
It is a burden Yee, who was born in South Korea and immigrated to the United States at age 28, understands far too well. Her husband and the father of her three children died young of lung cancer. Her best friend from graduate school died young of breast cancer. “Although highly educated, my family considered cancer to be a disease that was remote and had nothing to do with us,” she says. But it did. And, she says, “I found that I was not alone.”
Research: The Healthy Road to a Vaccine
Research on immune cells in breast tissue, from the Mayo Clinic
$600,000 for the next three years
What can healthy breast tissue teach us about breast cancer? Lots.
Tissue from the Mayo Clinic Benign Breast Disease Cohort is the focus of Dr. Amy Degnim’s research at the Mayo Clinic. “By studying benign breast biopsy samples from women who did and did not develop cancer later, as well as breast tissue from normal women, we hope to identify changes in the tissue that can help us identify women who are at high risk of future breast cancer,” she says.
“If we can find that there are key components of the immune system within the breast tissue, it may be possible to consider using a vaccine strategy for breast cancer prevention.” In other words: If researchers understand how the immune system works in breast tissue, maybe they could make a vaccine.
The findings so far? “There is evidence of an immune cell presence in normal breast tissue and also in breast tissue from benign biopsies,” she says.
The promise that such information will one day help lead to a cure keeps her going. “I am a breast surgeon, so I see on a daily basis the suffering that is caused by breast cancer for so many women and families.” An approach to prevention could end it.
To join the study: Korean women older than 40 with no mammogram the past two years can call 612-618-4854 to join.
75 percent of the money raised by Susan G. Komen Minnesota stays in Minnesota. The other 25 percent goes to national research, some of which also returns to Minnesota through our two National Institutes of Health–certified research institutions: the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.