KANNAPOLIS — Breast cancer education and support remain a need among African American women, as they have the highest breast cancer incidence and mortality rates in Cabarrus County.

Sisters in Partnership, an all-volunteer group of breast health advocates, work to educate women about the importance of mammogram screenings, clinical breast exams, and breast self-examination for early cancer detection.

Founding of Sisters in Partnership

Sisters in Partnership was founded in 1996, when Cabarrus Health Alliance (CHA), then Cabarrus County Health Dept. and Atrium Health Cabarrus, then Cabarrus Memorial Hospital, received a grant from Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center. The grant was focused on raising breast health awareness and education within Cabarrus’ African American communities. Through the funding, 20 community leaders received training and were brought together monthly to discuss common misconceptions, incidence rates, risk factors, and how to talk to community members about breast cancer.

After the grant ended, leaders and local advocates maintained their commitment to increasing breast cancer awareness. Staying focused on their mission, the group strived to make a difference in the lives of women in Cabarrus County who were battling breast cancer or in remission. Many SIP members had personal experience, either being a survivor of breast cancer or from supporting someone else who was going through treatment. Sisters in Partnership grew through recruitment from local churches, women who shared an interest in breast health awareness, and through involvement in other organizations.

Original members Ruth Curry and Margaret Mathis created the group name and ultimately the mission statement for Sisters in Partnership, which are both still used today.

The Sisters in Partnership mission is: “To help equip women with the facts and figures about breast health, and help them apply this information to themselves through our network of support. As advocates for women, we will encourage them to get regular screenings, and assist those with abnormal screenings as they move through the process of diagnosis and treatment. Ours will be a shoulder to lean on as we help women with breast cancer cope with changes in their lives.”

Partnership with the Cabarrus Health Alliance

Over the years, CHA has provided SIP with a meeting site, breast health materials, financial support, and staffing to document meeting notes and assist with special events. SIP currently partners with CHA’s Breast Health Program, which focuses on reducing barriers to care and increasing breast cancer education opportunities for low-income, uninsured, or underinsured African-American and Hispanic communities within Cabarrus and Rowan counties. The Breast Health Program Coordinator is able to work with SIP members to share their testimonies to local church congregations and community organizations, stressing the importance of early detection.

“From the moment I met this group of women, I was inspired by their spirit and solid foundation as advocates for breast cancer awareness,” said Branisha Turner, breast health program coordinator at CHA. “It is rewarding to be able to depend on the sisters to assist me as I navigate throughout communities they have been a part of for over 20 years now.”

Continued advocacy for SIP

Last month, Sisters in Partnership accepted one of two “Breast Care Champions of the Year” honors from Atrium Health Cabarrus. SIP have been supporters of Atrium Health Cabarrus for many years and has maintained a strong connection with staff at the Breast Health Center.

According to Helen Garcia Leak, breast health outreach coordinator and educator at Atrium Health Cabarrus, SIP was very deserving of the honor. “Throughout many years, the Sisters in Partnership have been an instrumental partner for the Atrium Health Cabarrus Breast Health Center. Every year, they write a letter of support for the Breast Health Center to include in its application for a Susan G. Komen Charlotte Community Grant. The sisters educate women about the importance of early detection and if a woman should receive a diagnosis of breast cancer, the sisters are there to provide support.”

At this year’s Breast Care Champions Symposium, “From Surviving to Thriving,” SIP members Sonja Allison, a 5-year survivor, and Vanessa Hamrick, an over 20-year survivor from three breast cancer diagnoses, provided extremely powerful testimonials. Allison spoke about how her involvement with SIP not only helped her, but allowed her to minister to others.

“One way I learned to thrive in my survivorship, was becoming a member of Sisters of Partnership. Thriving to me is being able to go out and talk about breast cancer with the community. I am able to be a face and resource for the 20-, 30-, or even 18- year-olds that are newly diagnosed and don’t know what to do,” said Allison. “Having breast cancer has allowed me to minister to others and help them through their journey, as a young woman that went through it myself.”

Throughout the years, SIP has participated in community walks, such as the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, Relay for Life and Making Strides against Breast Cancer; health fairs; set up educational tables; and presented to churches, sororities, fraternities and other community groups. SIP sends out letters of support and encouragement for newly diagnosed women, in addition to providing a donation box of non-perishable food items and gift cards to women newly diagnosed or going through treatment during the holiday season.

“We have sustained over the years through constantly being provided updated information from staff at Atrium Cabarrus Breast Health Center and of course, the support from the Cabarrus Health Alliance has been absolutely invaluable,” said Jeanne Dixon, Sisters in Partnership President.

As Dixon explained, the future for SIP doesn’t seem to be slowing down. “SIP plans to increase their recruitment of younger women affected by breast cancer, remain an avenue of support for survivors, and continue to provide breast health resources as needed in the community.”

The Sisters in Partnership membership is open to all who have passion for providing breast health education to the community. SIP members are readily available to present on breast health awareness, distribute breast health materials, speak to church congregations and other community organizations, as well as give support to women and their families that are affected by breast cancer.

Meeting are held every third Wednesday of the month at 12:30 p.m. at the Cabarrus Health Alliance.

If support is needed for someone who has been newly diagnosed, undergoing treatment, or recently completed treatment for breast cancer, please contact Branisha Turner at 704-920-1352 for assistance and resources.

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Branisha Turner is breast

health outreach and education

program coordinator for the

Cabarrus Health Alliance.