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Community members drive inaugural Massey Breast Cancer Summit

Apr 22, 2022

Breast Summit image

On Tuesday, April 19, leaders from VCU Massey Cancer Center converged for the inaugural Breast Cancer Summit. They aimed to engage the community on priorities for research in an effort to close gaps in breast cancer inequities.

“The importance of a summit like this is that our cancer center and community are working together,” said Vanessa Sheppard, Ph.D., associate director for community outreach engagement and health disparities and the Theresa B. Thomas Memorial Foundation Chair in Cancer Prevention and Control at Massey. “A lot of times we think of the priorities that are important for research, and then we go to the community and talk to them about it. But at this summit, we really want to hear from the community members themselves, some of their experiences and what they would like for us to do around breast cancer disparities.”

Members of the Massey Community Champions Program shared their personal experiences with breast cancer.

Stacey Everett, Ed.D, a 10-year breast cancer survivor and Community Champion, read the following poem “It Couldn’t Be Done” by Edgar Guest.

“Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
            But he with a chuckle replied
That ‘maybe it couldn’t,’ but he would be one
            Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
            On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
            That couldn’t be done, and he did it.
Somebody scoffed: ‘Oh, you’ll never do that;
            At least no one ever has done it’;
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
            And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
            Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
            That couldn’t be done, and he did it.
There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
     There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
            The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
            Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
            That ‘cannot be done,’ and you’ll do it.”

“It's very important that you have people who have been there, who know the process, who understand what having breast cancer is really all about,” Everett said about her participation in the summit. “To be able to impart that information to someone who is going through the process makes a great difference in their care and in their prognosis.”

Thirteen-year breast cancer survivor Donna Askew traveled to Richmond from Hampton, Virginia, to stress the importance of mammography.

“I had an appointment scheduled for my mammogram — my first mammogram. And, unfortunately, the day that I had the mammogram scheduled, it snowed and my doctor's office closed. So they canceled the appointment and I completely forgot all about it,” Askew remembered. “And then the following year, I saw a mobile mammogram advertisement and it  jarred my memory that I needed to get my mammogram. I'm so glad I did, because once I went to do that in May of 2009, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had no symptoms, no nothing.”

Ramon Bessix, who is currently in breast cancer treatment for a second time, said disparities remain in the Black community because of family traditions to keep health histories a secret.
“We keep things so close to the — forgive the pun — chest,” said Bessix, who is a Community Champion. “For years, our elders didn't even talk about breast cancer. I still to this day have no idea if my grandmother had breast cancer. As far as I know, I'm the first person in my family to have breast cancer. That's how hush-hush it is. And that's how we were raised. Now I encourage my daughter and my granddaughters to educate themselves. Get your mammograms. Find out all you can because you need to know.”

The Champion testimonials provided at the summit and in other settings inform research ideas and priorities at Massey in the development of programs to meet community needs. 

Breast summit image

“The creation of this space is what is important and unique,” said Maria Thomson, Ph.D., member of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program and director of the Community Champions Program at Massey as well as associate professor in health behavior and policy at the VCU School of Medicine. “The other thing that the Champions Program does is support champions to be the touch points in the community for the advocacy and the education efforts that they want to provide. They would like to do different advocacy and education activities in the Champions program. Our goal is to support those efforts so that it's really about bringing community voice into research, but also having research results brought into the community and communicated and disseminated in engaging and helpful ways.”

In addition to Sheppard, several VCU and Massey clinicians and researchers made presentations and took part in panel discussions at the summit:

Robert A. Winn, M.D., director and Lipman chair of oncology at Massey; professor, senior associate dean for cancer innovation and professor in pulmonary and critical care medicine at the VCU School of Medicine.

Douglas Arthur, M.D., chair of radiation oncology, associate director for clinical affairs and member of the Developmental Therapeutics research program at Massey.

Kandace McGuire, M.D., chief of breast surgery, surgical leader of the Breast Health Team and member of the Developmental Therapeutics research program at Massey as well as a professor of surgery at the VCU School of Medicine.

Mary Helen Hackney, M.D., medical director of community oncology at Massey and the director of quality improvement in the Division of Hematology, Oncology and Palliative Care at the VCU School of Medicine.

Swadesh K. Das, Ph.D., of the Department of Human and Molecular Genetics at the VCU School of Medicine.

Annabel Baek, M.D., resident of the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Residency Program in the Department of Surgery at the VCU School of Medicine.

Todd C. Adams, M.D., radiation oncologist at Massey and assistant professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the VCU School of Medicine.

Asmaa Naamos M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D. student in the Department of Health Behavior and Policy at the VCU School of Medicine (Social and Behavioral Science Program – Graduate research assistant in Dr. Sheppard’s laboratory).

Victoria J. Findlay, Ph.D., the program co-leader for Cancer Prevention and Control at Massey and an associate professor of surgery at the VCU School of Medicine.

The keynote speaker was Haley Thompson, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Oncology at Wayne State University and the associate center director for community outreach and engagement at the Karmanos Cancer Institute.

Participating from the Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) was David P. Turner, Ph.D., associate professor and director of shRNA Technology.

Written by: Amy Lacey

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