Volunteers for East Texas Pin-a-Sister, a breast cancer awareness campaign targeted at African-American women, never envisioned that within three short years, they would have impacted thousands of women — or be lauded for the feat.
At African-American churches across Smith County, women are getting a lesson on breast health and mammograms. It was brought to places of worship three years ago to reach out to black women, who are disproportionately affected by breast cancer.
Regina Davis, director of ETMC’s Breast Care Center, recognized that church is a primary source of information for many black residents. Historically, it’s been the center of any significant campaign.
There, breast cancer survivors give personal testimonies and volunteers host ceremonies where participating women pin each other with pink ribbons and pledge to get annual screening mammograms.
Marie Hall, a volunteer at her church, said the program spurred her to get a breast exam and to help others.
“Pin-A-Sister to us has been a great asset to encourage the women,” she said. “When we do our Pin-A-Sister ceremony we are very encouraged about it. We have some that have taken mammos for the very first time.”
In its first year, volunteers with the breast cancer awareness program aimed to “pin” 600 women in Smith County.
They surpassed that goal, pinning 2,000 women. Today, 95 percent of the 80 African-American churches in Smith County have held a pinning ceremony, reaching more than 6,500 women.
The program originated from a national awareness campaign of the same name which began in Chicago in 2007.
Mrs. Davis developed the program locally after learning of alarming health care data relating to black women in Smith County. A survey, conducted by the local chapter of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, showed that African-American women were more likely to present with later-stage breast cancer and had a higher mortality rate.
The program receives funding through grants. In the last three years, The ETMC Breast Care Center and ETMC Foundation received $37,600 from Komen for the Cure for the program. The ETMC also has helped with additional funding, bringing a total budget to $75,000 to date.
Moving forward, Mrs. Davis plans to have church volunteers act as liaisons between women and their doctors, ensuring that they keep mammogram appointments.
“We’re trying to get everybody to go from awareness to action,” she said.
Mrs. Davis said as the campaign grows, they face challenges such as collecting participant information to compile outcome data. She plans to develop data indicators, and enlist clerical support to follow through with patients while tracking results.