For the sixth year in a row the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation has awarded a grant to the Broward County Libraries Division, the ninth largest municipal library system in the country, to create breast cancer awareness programs. The programs began in the summer and will continue through March 2011.
Susan Buzzi, a photographer based in Tamarac was commissioned by the Libraries Division to take portraits of local breast cancer patients and survivors. This is the third year she has photographed people with the Komen grant.
“I have photographed over 150 individuals, and collected their stories. This year I documented high risk groups,” said Buzzi. “These include lesbians, African-Americans, Hispanic women, Asians, Caribbean people, and Ashkenazi Jewish women. Men are also considered a high risk group, because breast cancer occurs in men but, it’s very rare, with about one percent of breast cancer diagnosed in men.”
Prior to photographing survivors, Buzzi worked primarily with environmental photography. Talking to her subjects about their journey from diagnosis to recovery was initially a very challenging experience. In order to find survivors she worked with Gilda’s Club, contacted doctors, hospitals, and other cancer organizations. At first she didn’t know if she could execute the project.
“This is not like shooting a wedding, this is a serious subject,” Buzzi told SFGN in between hanging, matting, and developing her photographs. Yes, developing as in a dark room, the photographer does not use digital cameras, and only works with Ilford film and papers. “It is really quite an honor, and it gets better and better as the years go by and it’s just incredible to work with the survivors.”
The experience is very raw. In addition to the black and white portraits the subjects write an account of their experiences with breast cancer, and they are positioned next to the corresponding photograph. The stories are the exact words of the writer – no one edits their stories.
Buzzi’s work will be featured in two exhibits, both entitled “Stories to Share.” The work will be on display as of October 1.
One of Buzzi’s subjects, Mary-Jane Cunningham, is a singer-songwriter, performer, choral director and a ten-year breast cancer survivor. As a means of giving back to the community she hosts an annual even, the Mary-Jane Cunningham T-Dance, which will be held this year at the Pride Center at Equality Park.
Cunningham beamed when discussing the success of the event.
“Over the years we have raised over $90,000 so our goal this year is to exceed the $100,000 figure. The funds will go to the Comprehensive Breast Center at Broward General Medical Center. The money will stay local and go right into the center,” she assures the community. The funds will provide mammograms for those that cannot afford a breast exam, have purchased gowns for mammogram screenings, and provided a soothing sound system for the center.
She will also provide some entertainment, and promises an inspirational song for those in attendance.
In addition to “Stories to Share,” the library will also offer a wellness fair.
“Our Susan G. Komen for the Cure Wellness Fair provides valuable information from health organizations in the Broward area,” said Barbara Miller, Programming Manager of the Broward County Library. “We also have an outstanding collection of books about breast cancer at the Main Library and our other 36 branch locations. Our goal is to provide information to all our customers and to answer their questions to the best of our ability about where to obtain additional information about breast cancer.”
Another breast cancer survivor that met with Buzzi was Dr. Nan Van Den Bergh, a professor of social work at Florida International University. She has been an activist since she finished her treatment in 2004.
“I have been working specifically with health disparities for lesbian women and how to provide quality healthcare and work change these disparities,” she told SFGN. “In my story for “Stories to Share,” I focused on making lemonade out of lemons. We have no cure for breast cancer. As a social worker I am interested in eliminating disparities in society,” said Van Den Bergh. “I discovered lesbian women were potentially at a greater risk for breast cancer and researched why this is the case.”
Her findings are simple and direct. Women, who do not bear children are exposed to more estrogen, and as most lesbian women do not give birth this is a key factor. Breast cancer is fed through estrogen. Lesbian women are also less likely to self-exam, get clinical exams and ultimately mammograms.
“That somewhat evens out with older populations of straight and lesbian women,” added Van Den Bergh. “Yet, the younger women, aged 20 to 50, are not engaging in exams as much as they should, nor getting baseline exams at 40. This has been gauged through nationwide surveys.”
Also national studies show that women who identify as lesbian have a higher body fat index, and studies show a disparity in diet when compared to straight women. Lesbian women also tend to drink and smoke in higher quantities than heterosexual.
As part of her activism and commitment to what she described as “our cause” she worked to establish Area Resource and Referral Organization for Women: Targeting LBT Women’s Health, also known as ARROW. The group started last October.
“Our whole focus has been outreach to the community, we are at all the pride festivals, we work with Care Resource, and we received another grant from Susan G. Komen to expand our training to all the major providers of low or no cost breast health programs in Broward & Dade,” said Van Den Bergh. “We train health care providers in terms of how to be culturally sensitive when working with lesbian patients.”
Being culturally sensitive is key in treating women who identify as lesbian, to discuss risks like smoking, alcohol consumption and body fat index, which not only facilitates breast cancer but cardiovascular disease, and cervical cancer which can go undetected in the lesbian population as they are less likely to be have a Pap Smear test and an HPV screening.
For more information, please visit Broward.org/library
“Stories to Share,” openings, will take place on October 2, from 2 until 5 p.m. at the African American Research Library and Cultural Center, 2650 Sistrunk Boulevard. The second opening will take place on October 7 at the Main Library, located at 100 South Andrews Avenue, also in Fort Lauderdale. The Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Wellness Fair will also take place on Thursday, October 7 at the Main Branch.