When Neighborhood Ford Store Board Chair Richard Bazzy prepared to award the company’s Warrior in Pink cancer survivor support award at the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, he had no idea how small that neighborhood is.
This year’s recipient, Wilma Craighead, grew up in East Liberty—just blocks from Bazzy—and though they’d never met, their families knew each other. He said that made it all the more special that he could present her the award, a patchwork quilt, with each swatch created by a cancer survivor or family member, all in various shades of pink.
“This quilt is a symbol of hope, comfort and strength,” he said. “And I am proud to be part of an organization that has supported the fight against breast cancer for 25 years. And I’m proud to present this quilt.”
Craighead, who worked at PNC until her diagnosis seven years ago, thanked Bazzy, Ford, her doctors, the volunteers and her fellow members of the African American Self-Help Support Group, which meets at the Hillman Center.
“I’ve been part of the group since 2011 and it’s helped immensely,” she said. “They told me what to expect from treatment, and we uplift each other through our journeys, we relate, and bond and we let others know they’re not alone. It’s not a death sentence. We have some members with more than 35 years.”
That a Black woman would be this year’s award winner is somewhat fitting, considering recent research into outcome disparities in treatment and survival rates between African American and White patients—because UPMC researcher Dr. Lyn Robertson announced that in a recently completed study done in conjunction with the University of North Carolina, those disparities had been eliminated.
The study took 7,000 patients with stage one and stage two breast cancer and applied a system call ACCURE (Accountability for Cancer Care through Undoing Racism and Equity) that included bias training for physicians and support staff, plus education—including the patients—on overcoming barriers to treatment; missing scheduled tests, visits or even treatment.
“After five years, what we’ve found is we closed that gap,” she said. “It’s gone. Now we are applying for funding to see if it holds for more advanced, stage two and three, cancers.”
Dr. Robertson said in addition to the bias training, the ACCURE system put in place a patient navigator to track adherence to follow-up and used an integrated software system to alert everyone in the care chain to patients’ compliance.
“So the navigator turns on their computer in the morning, sees who’s scheduled for what,” she said. “So if Mrs. Smith missed a mammogram, everybody knows—and we find out why. If it’s something like a transportation problem, if we have to get her there ourselves we will—we have.”
Bazzy said it makes him “pretty damned Pittsburgh proud” to see results like that.
Ford Warriors in Pink is dedicated to helping those touched by breast cancer through actions that support, inspire and empower patients, survivors and co-survivors throughout their journeys. Since 1993, Warriors in Pink has donated $136 million to battle breast cancer. The Warrior Quilt program is the regional activation of Warriors in Pink.
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