For Sisters Working It Out, one of the groups that partners with the University of Illinois Cancer Center’s Office of Community Engagement and Health Equity, its mission is clear: “To serve as a catalytic force in the elimination of breast cancer disparities in the Chicagoland area,” their website proclaims.
And, the breast cancer awareness organization—called SWIO for short—has worked to do just that since its founding in 2001 by Monica Peek, MD, MPH, an Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Chicago. Beulah Brent, SWIO’s chief executive officer, has been involved with the group since its early days.
“There is no survivor if you don’t get a mammogram, right? There is no screening if you’re not taught the importance of getting it, so you can’t have one without the other. So, success to me is if I can educate just one person to get that mammogram,” Brent said.
SWIO has done that and more. The Cancer Center recently partnered with SWIO at its annual “Day of Beauty,” an event for survivors “to make them feel good,” Brent said, and it was an opportunity for others to learn about breast cancer and the importance of mammograms. The event also was a chance to encourage Black women to participate in breast cancer clinical trials. Black women are more likely to die from breast cancer than white women and there is disproportionately aggressive tumor biology among African American women.
SWIO serves an essential role on research collaborations with the Cancer Center. They are currently working with members on a multi-year study, FOR ME: Fostering Opportunities in Research through Messaging & Education. The objective of the FOR ME study is to develop, optimize, and test a multimedia decision aid for Black women diagnosed with breast cancer to increase awareness about clinical trials and to facilitate shared decision making. In their role, SWIO has informed the study design and instruments, and will be co-leading data collection efforts. Kent Hoskins, MD, Associate Director for Translational Research at the Cancer Center, is the study’s principal investigator.
On its website, SWIO touts its ability to remove common barriers to mammograms in hopes of convincing women to be screened: “Need a mammogram? No insurance, no transportation, no worries? We got you!”
Not only will SWIO navigate women to find breast cancer screening, the group is there to help them through any subsequent breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, including providing food to households of women going through treatment who need help, Brent said.
As a community partner, SWIO refers women, especially high-risk women, to the Mile Square Health Center Accessible Mammogram Outreach and Engagement (Mi-MAMO) Program or the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program (IBCCP) at UI Health for financial and navigational support. The partnership provides free or low-cost breast cancer screenings and it ensures patients are set up with a medical home for additional medical needs.
In addition to support groups for breast cancer survivors, SWIO runs a Community Health Educator training program, which the group’s website says “expands the economic opportunities for women in medically under-served communities across Chicagoland.”
Thank you, SWIO!