Did you know that more than 200,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year; and about 40,000 women will die from this disease? Did you know that nearly 2 million women living in the United States have been treated for breast cancer?

These statistics are startling, but last week Access Community Health Network, the largest network of community health centers in the nation, convened in a celebration dedicated to the survivors of the disease. Titled “A Celebration of Life,” the event took place Oct. 14 at the Garfield Park Conservatory Jensen Room, located at 300 N. Central Park Ave.

Following spirited renditions of “Brown-Eyed Girl” from guitarist Dan Lopez and “Wind Beneath My Wings” from Shirley McGee, ACCESS Chief Executive Officer Donna Thompson, the woman primarily responsible for organizing the event, took the podium to deliver her impassioned opening remarks.

“I come to you here today not just as a CEO, but also as a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter and a nurse,” she said. “October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and we are here to celebrate and recognize the lives of those who endured this disease.”

Thompson introduced Bishop Cody Marshall of Freedom Temple Church of God, who has worked on the Reach 2010 program, a program designed to both address the disparities facing people of color within the health care system, but also provide resources to those people who need it and lack adequate insurance.

This is especially important in dealing with women with breast and cervical cancer concerns as they need to know that there are ways to obtain mammograms and treatment even without insurance.

“Breast cancer attacks more white women annually than any other racial group; however, women of color are more likely to die from it. That is the crux of the problem that we need to address,” said Bishop Marshall. “And through our faith-based ministry we have managed to allow hundreds of women to obtain treatment to fight the enemy called cancer.”

Adrienne White of the American Cancer Society spoke next, and she addressed the “cancer disparities” as well, following up where Bishop Marshall left off.

“Whether they are uninsured, underinsured or cannot get access to the information they need, the disparity [in] treatment of breast cancer between white and non-white women is glaring. Women must be made to realize how important mammograms are and that there are organizations like SAC, REACH 2010 and ACCESS that provide health-care providers that they can utilize.”

Two survivors, Dorothy Anderson and Maria Talamantes spoke about their experiences with breast cancer and while they were both uninsured, were able to gain information from their neighborhood clinics about ACCESS and Stand Against Cancer (SAC) programs that provide women with mammograms and cancer treatment at no cost.

The event’s keynote speech was delivered by Illinois Senator Mattie Hunter (3rd Dist.), who talked about her work to make breast cancer a high priority on the senate floor.

One of the referendums led to the “Ticket to the Cure” program. The program, which will begin in January will provide that a portion of the money spent on lottery tickets be placed into an account to fund cancer treatment providers.

Hunter, whose sister-in-law succumbed to breast cancer a few years ago, has made cancer her top priority in office.

Along with “Ticket to the Cure,” she also spearheaded Senate Bill 12, which requires insurance companies to cover screening for breast cancer earlier in a woman’s life if her doctor considers her to be at a higher risk of developing breast cancer.

The bill requires insurance companies to cover mammograms for women who have a family history of breast cancer or who have other risk factors such as genetic defects that place them at higher risk. The woman’s doctor will determine the age to begin the mammograms and the intervals between each mammogram that would have to be covered by insurance.

“Too many women, especially minority women, are going undetected because of the lack of education and waiting too long to be diagnosed. This legislation will allow more women with risk factors to get the screening they need and ultimately increase their chances of survival if diagnosed,” said Sen. Hunter.

For more information about cancer treatment providers, please contact Y-ME Breast Cancer Organization at 312/364-9071.