When I attended the Bright Starts Pink Power Mom fifth anniversary in November, I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of caring and accomplished women in one place. It was a challenge to get to speak with the almost 40 Pink Power Moms over the weekend, but I’m certainly glad I sat next to Tammie Denyse at our closing brunch.
I knew I liked her right away because of her fabulous first name! But I became more impressed as she spoke passionately about the mission of her organization, Carrie’s TOUCH (Teaching, Outreach, Understanding, Caring and Healing). Tammie founded her organization (named after her deceased mother) after she was diagnosed with stage 2B breast cancer in 2005.
Tammie says she started Carrie’s TOUCH because she could not find African American support groups that addressed this population’s unique issues. To access the needs of the community, she conducted a needs assessment and found a study by the American Cancer Society that showed that African Americans had a higher mortality rate from breast cancer even though there was a lower incidence in their population.
An associate pastor at an African Methodist Episcopal Church in Sacramento, she shared with several congregations that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer . She was overwhelmed by the number of women who approached her after the service telling her, in whispering tones, how they, too, were survivors.
“I found out there were 12 women in our congregation who had breast cancer, but never talked about it,” Tammie says. “In the African American culture, health issues are not discussed. I discovered after I was diagnosed that I had four aunts who had breast cancer.”
In addition to support, Carrie’s TOUCH’S focus in on promoting education and awareness in the African American community and beyond. The organization also supports research on the reasons African Americans are diagnosed at later stages and developing it at earlier ages. They are currently in a partnership with UCLA Ph.D candidate Claudia Davis to research, “The Psychological Functioning Among African American Breast Cancer Survivors.”
Tammie says there is a mistrust of the medical community because of past injustices, such as the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study . The long-term study’s researchers studied poor African Americans with syphilis but neither told them of their illness nor treated them. To overcome this barrier, Carrie’s TOUCH reaches out to churches, schools, community events, parties … anywhere where people congregate.
Tammie recently mailed me Carrie’s TOUCH 18-month calendar, which features photos and stories of African American survivors, including one male. The beautiful calendar also serves as an educational tool, with information about cancer staging, chemotherapy, surgery options and more. Proceeds benefit Carrie’s TOUCH programs and services. To learn more and purchase a calendar, visit their site at www.carriestouch.org .
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