The Coalition of Blacks Against Breast Cancer is taking strides to educate and increase awareness about breast cancer in the African-American community.

On Friday, The Coalition of Blacks against Breast Cancer (CBBC) is presenting a kick-off event at the Arizona State University Downtown Campus. The event is free to the public and survivors will share their stories about their journey and victory over breast cancer.

Dr. Michele Halyard, an oncologist at the Mayo Clinic and a co-founder of the coalition, said the group grew out of an initial effort in 2009. She said that she and a fellow colleague were discussing breast cancer in the black community. She also said that they both felt the need to do something more in the community related to breast cancer.

"Most anybody you talk to is touched by breast cancer in some way," Halyard said. "I know I certainly was because my mother was diagnosed when I was young."

She said that in 2009, she hosted a forum that provided information to nearly 100 black women and men about breast cancer. In addition, she said that at the forum many people suggested that there needed to be more of this type of effort in the black community.

Afterword, Halyard said that she and her colleagues drew together a number of people from the community and did a further need assessment. She said that the coalition targets all people of African descent and it officially launched in January. She also said that the coalition's effort is centered on people from diagnosis through the rest of their lives.

"Sometimes people think of survivors as people who have gone through their treatment and have no evidence of this disease," Halyard said. "We define survivors as people from the date of diagnosis forward."

Gina Bowser, who is a 13-year survivor and member of the coalition, said it's important for people to feel comfortable speaking out and sharing their stories about breast cancer. She also said that CBBC feels like less of a support group and more of a membership where people can be educated.

"Don't let the C-word scare you," Bowser said. "Be prepared to put on your armor and fight your battle."

Tracey Walker-Banks, a two-year breast cancer survivor and coalition member, said that she was first diagnosed in August of 2008. After her monogram, she said that she noticed that she had a swollen lymph node under her arm. She said that it didn't seem to be a big deal at first, but her doctor was persistent.

"Fortunately, I had a doctor who was very aggressive," Walker-Banks said. "She kept digging until they found the tumor."

Walker-Banks also said that she has received a lot of support from her family and friends. Her advice to fellow survivors and people that are diagnosed is to always stay positive.

Carla Wright, event coordinator at CBCC, said that men also attend the meetings. She said that some men are there for their cancer, while others are given tips to help support their families deal with the disease.

"It (breast cancer) doesn't just affect the person that has the disease. It affects the entire family," Wright said.

She also said that CBCC has monthly meetings on the third Sunday of each month. At the kick-off event, she said there will be many resources and beneficial information for the public.

"In the African-American culture a lot of times we don't share our stories," Wright said. "It's important to share your information because it empowers you and other people to know what resources are available."

• Kirsten Hillhouse is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a senior at Arizona State University.

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