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De Mujer A Mujer Helps Those In The Spanish-Speaking Community… Diabetes Forum To Target Hispanics: Education Seen As Key

Latino Patients Find Support; De Mujer A Mujer Helps Those In The Spanish-Speaking Community. Series: Race For The Cure

Aiden McGuire Contributing writer

The Post Standard/Herald-Journal

April 6, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

When diagnosed with breast cancer, there's nothing more important than having a support system in place to help you through treatment while on your way to recovery.

Now, imagine taking away that support system and not knowing where to turn for help. As if that's not scary enough, now imagine that your predominant language is Spanish. Where can you find someone who understands your needs? More importantly, where do you go to break through the language barrier that prevents you from asking your doctor important medical questions?

The Spanish Action League of Onondaga County has just the answer.

Known in the Spanish speaking community as La Liga, the league sponsors a breast cancer care and prevention group called De Mujer a Mujer, or Woman to Woman. The group meets about three times a month and receives its funding through the United Way and Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

Woman to Woman is facilitated by Reina Way, a Spanish speaking outreach worker who is also the organization's breast cancer coordinator. Way has been involved with the program for two years and says that the women who attend the meetings are from Cuba, Puerto Rico and other Spanish speaking countries. The group includes women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer as well as those who have had family members with the disease.

The women who attend the meetings are dealing with a change in climate, language barrier, lack of money and family support. The support group offers educational sessions that teach how to prevent breast cancer as well as how to perform breast self-examinations. Woman to Woman also provides its clients with interpretation, counseling and information on mammograms.

Way says that the success of the program comes from educating "directly into the community." She will often go from street to street and door to door to deliver information on treating and preventing breast cancer. You may even see her in supermarkets getting the word out, or in libraries setting up informative tables.

"We are very proud of the support group because it's well known in the community," Way said.

And getting the message across is now more important than ever.

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the leading cause of death among Hispanic women. Which is why Way will go the extra mile to take care of her clients needs.

Not only will Way help set up an appointment, but she'll often provide the transportation to and from the medical facility. And she'll even sit in on the appointment and offer any support she can. Way admits that it's an overwhelming task, but says that providing her clients with emotional support and assistance is all part of the job.

Mayra Orsini, Executive Director of the Spanish Action League, says that it's people like Way that make the Woman to Woman program work.

"It's so scary," she said. "Especially when you don't have anybody here. You don't have family. You don't know the language. You don't know the doctors here. You don't trust anyone."

During the Woman to Woman meetings, the women get to express their health concerns in an open forum. The group helps the women cope with breast cancer in a friendly environment. Personal stories are often shared, as well as different ways to cope with stress. The women are encouraged to bring friends to each meeting.

The most important part about the program is that it provides the Spanish speaking community with a place to go in a time of crisis. And it doesn't cost the clients a penny. Medical insurance is not needed thanks to the support from the United Way and Komen Foundation.

Orsini says that her organization is committed to helping the community understand the causes of breast cancer as well as the many ways to prevent it.

"One of the most important issues here is dedication," she said. "It's the importance of getting checked and understanding the consequences."

The Komen Foundation has been a global leader in the fight against breast cancer and is known for sponsoring community-based outreach programs like Woman to Woman.

Diabetes Forum To Target Hispanics Disease Widely Affects Community; Education Seen As Key

GARRET CONDON; Courant Staff Writer

April 8, 2004
Copyright © 2004 The Hartford Courant. All rights reserved.

A RECENT DIAGNOSIS of diabetes led state Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, D-Hartford, to change her diet and exercise habits. Her doctor says she can prevent serious complications from the disease.

It's on everyone's Top 10 list of least-favorite phone answering machine messages: ``Call the doctor, it's very important.''

That's what was waiting for Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, D-Hartford, one evening last November. She had just had a physical, in hopes of getting to the bottom of her constant fatigue and excessively dry mouth.

But the message from her doctor's office was so unsettling, she couldn't sleep. When she phoned the next morning, she was told that she had to come into the office and talk to the doctor.

``Oh, my God,'' she thought. ``It's something really bad.''

Her doctor said -- really -- that he had good news and bad news. First the bad: Gonzalez was diabetic. She panicked just hearing the word. She said she couldn't talk. ``In my mind, I'm thinking I'm a diabetic. My mother was a diabetic and they amputated both of her legs.''

The good news, she then learned, was that she had caught it early. And she could manage it by changing her diet, working out and monitoring her blood sugar.

In the months since the diagnosis, Gonzalez, 53, began eating healthier foods (like whole wheat bread -- a whole new experience), drinking sugar-free drinks (she never touched diet sodas before) and getting regular exercise. She has dropped 26 pounds. Her blood sugar and blood pressure are at healthy levels and her cholesterol is improving.

She said that she feels much better today than she did before she was diagnosed. And the impact of the dietary changes on her household has been so dramatic that her husband, who is not diabetic, dropped 17 pounds himself.

Each year, more than a million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes. In 2002, 18.2 million Americans age 20 or older -- about 8.7 percent of the total adult population -- had diabetes, with 5.2 million of them not diagnosed.

Hispanics are 1.5 times more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic whites, and residents of Puerto Rico are 1.8 times more likely to have it. (African Americans and American Indians also are disproportionately affected. They are 1.6 times more likely to have diabetes than whites. On average, American Indians and Alaska Natives are 2.3 times as likely to have diabetes.)

Earlier this year, researchers at the Hispanic Health Council and the University of Connecticut released the results of a study of diabetes among Hispanic women in Hartford. The study painted a picture of a community burdened by obesity (a key risk factor for diabetes), hunger, unhealthy meal patterns and depression, along with a lack of family support and specialized medical care.

Carmen Sierra, executive director of the Connecticut Association for United Spanish Action Inc. (CAUSA), a coalition of community-based Latino organizations throughout the state, said that in Latino communities many people have diabetes or have friends or relatives who have the illness.

``It's a very devastating disease that affects not only the person who has it, but the entire family,'' she said, and she knows. Her mother is a diabetic. To address the need for culturally sensitive diabetes education (one recommendation of the HHC-UConn study), Sierra's organization and the Connecticut Health Foundation are co-sponsoring a free, daylong Spanish-language diabetes conference and health fair on Saturday at the Learning Corridor Arts & Performance Center in Hartford.

The event is booked solid. About 600 people from around the state already have signed up and there is a waiting list, according to Sierra. The conference will include educational sessions on such topics as techniques for keeping diabetes in check and a discussion of the growing diabetes threat faced by Latino children, as well as cooking demonstrations of slimmed-down Latino dishes. These are the kinds of lifestyle changes that are a key to both preventing and living with diabetes, said Sierra. But shifts in diet and physical activity can be a particular challenge in the Latino community, she said.

``We have very poor exercise routines, poor eating habits,'' she said, and visits to the doctor are rare. But, she said, diabetes education can make all the difference.

``What I've noticed is that when you give the opportunity for the individual to learn what is diabetes and how does it impact your life, they take it more seriously,'' she said. That serious attitude can lead to the kinds of changes that can prevent the insidious complications of diabetes, from heart and kidney disease to blindness and foot ulcers, she said.

Sierra said that her group would be listening to participants on Saturday to plan further programs to deal with the growing problem of diabetes among Latinos.

Gonzalez said that she plans to attend Saturday's event, and she won't be alone. She has encouraged about a dozen friends to attend. ``I know we can really help our people through education,'' she said.

Although the diabetes conference is full, people can add their names to the waiting list by calling 860-424-0077.

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