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Two Americas: Technology, advocacy fighting to save lives from breast cancer

Samuel Rodgers mammography machine
Posted at 5:00 AM, May 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-19 08:09:07-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Technology and advocacy is bridging the gap in the number of people dying from breast cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, except for skin cancers, breast cancer is the most common type of among women. However, Black women have the highest death rate.

“The statistics were for me to be gone after five years having triple negative breast cancer. So I’m here 21 years later," Tonia Yelder, who was diagnosed with breast cancer said.

Yelder said a trip to the bank saved her life.

"As I was leaving, a woman handed me a hang tag and she said the words 'Don’t forget to check,'" Yelder said.

The hang tag gave advice on how to perform a self-breast exam. Tonia said she followed the instructions and found a lump, but she caught it early.

“God has been good. It’s my purpose to give back and do other things and to help others," Yelder said. "I think that’s my purpose for being here."

Yelder gives back by sharing her story of when she was diagnosed at just 32.

She works with the Susan G. Komen organization to inspire other women, especially Black women, to check early.

“We know when it comes to breast cancer, Black women and white women are about equal in terms of incidents of breast cancer," Susan Brown, with the Susan G. Komen Organization, said. "But, the mortality in Black women is about 40% higher and that’s not OK."

The most recent numbers from the CDC show that during a four-year period in Kansas and Missouri, white women with breast cancer died at a rate of 19 per 100,000 women.

However, Black women died at a rate of 27 per 100,000 in Kansas and over 30 per 100,000 in Missouri.

When it comes to saving lives, personal stories are one tool, but technology is another.

Samuel Rodgers Health Center received a 3D mammography machine last October.

“We’re able to find things much smaller," Renee Jeria, the imaging director at Samuel Rodgers Health Center, said. "Things that maybe used to hide in dense breast tissue can now be seen, because we can look at it layer by layer all the way through."

Jeria said dense breast tissue is common among Black women.

The health center serves a population most vulnerable to negative health outcomes.

“A lot of our patients are under insured or no insurance, and to be able to give them this type of imaging exam, we’re hoping to close the gap on those disparities that we find in breast cancer diagnosis," Jeria said.

Health experts say women should be vigilant about their health.

“Every woman over the age of 40 should get a mammogram every year," Jeria said. "But women younger than that should be doing their own self breast exam. It did make a difference in my life for sure.”

Jeria was diagnosed with breast cancer 17 years ago and has been cancer-free since.

Jeria and Yelder want other women to share their joy of being a survivor.

“Early detection saves lives," Yelder said. "Whether it’s by way of a mammogram or self-breast exam, it’s important for people to be on top of their health."