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Comadre a Comadre: Facing and Fighting Breast Cancer Together

By Hilary Jetty

Comadres

“If I wouldn’t have had anybody to talk to, I probably would have had a breakdown,” says Cathy Landavazo of her breast cancer ordeal. Here, she (right) and comadre Flora Velasquez enjoy a laugh together.

Five months after Brian Bridges and Elsa Rico married, Elsa was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer. “I was feeling very bad because I have a daughter,” she said, “and I thought that maybe I would die.”

A cancer diagnosis tears the fabric of life. All certainty about the future disappears; one worries about children and loved ones, and how to bear the financial burden of a life-threatening illness. The path to surviving cancer involves enduring physical and emotional pain while dealing with an overwhelming amount of medical information and intervention. It is not a path to walk alone.

In the Hispanic/Latina community, a comadre is a close and supportive female friend; this bond can be as strong as family. Breast cancer is the most common form of the disease among New Mexico’s Hispanic/Latina women, and incidence rates have more than doubled since 1998. The Comadre a Comadre Program at the UNM College of Education has provided community-based advocacy, education, and information about breast health and breast cancer to hundreds of women for more than a decade. Much of its funding has come from generous donors.

Elba Saavedra

“I am humbled by the courage and honor of the comadres,” said Elba Saavedra, PhD, Program director and co-founder, and an expert on the healthcare challenges faced by New Mexico’s ethnically diverse and underserved women.

The program’s foundation is rooted in a mentoring program for Hispanic women recently diagnosed with the disease. Comadre breast cancer survivors, mostly volunteers, have served as inspiring and motivational role models since 2005. They help new patients access and interpret information, so they can navigate the health care system, make decisions with confidence, and care for themselves.

“I am humbled by the courage and honor of the comadres,” said Elba Saavedra, PhD, Program director and co-founder, and an expert on the healthcare challenges faced by New Mexico’s ethnically diverse and underserved women. “Many of our co-founders are still here. These women and their families know what this experience is like, and what others are going through.”

The Comadre a Comadre methodology works - women in this structured, culturally and linguistically competent program have measurably better outcomes. Patient-clients see themselves reflected in their peers and mentors, within a compassionate community that celebrates and grieves together. Benefits radiate out into patients’ whole family systems as well.

Elsa Rico’s comadres helped her through a mastectomy and painful radiation, and she is now one of them. “From the first day I called they supported me,” she explained. “This cancer is different for everyone. We give each other more strength to continue on.”  

Elsa Rico

Elsa Rico’s comadres helped her through a mastectomy and painful radiation, and she is now one of them. “From the first day I called they supported me.”

Hispanic women are more likely to be diagnosed in later stages of breast cancer, due to lack of health insurance or knowledge about the disease, economic hardships, cultural traditions and language barriers. Unexpected medical bills, transportation issues or a sudden household or family emergency can critically impact a woman’s ability to get the proper care or support she needs. Among other things, donor gifts help women cover transportation to medical appointments

As any comadre will tell you, it takes strength and faith to overcome breast cancer. It also takes financial resources. Although Comadre a Comadre staff and volunteers dedicate themselves to doing all they can, they cannot meet all the needs in our community. Private funding from caring donors will enable this program to thrive, improving the chances for more women to know the elation of surviving breast cancer. Your gifts keep a circle of healing in motion, as new survivors join the growing circle of comadres, helping even more daughters, mothers and grandmothers to enjoy their lives and their families for years to come.

Dalila RomeroPeer Navigator and co-founder Dalila Romero is a 19-year breast cancer survivor. She has worked with women in their twenties, and their seventies, accompanying them to appointments with surgeons and oncologists. “Some don’t speak English, some don’t know Spanish,” she said. “Most are economically disadvantaged, but even those with insurance have high copays and deductibles.”  Gifts from caring donors help these women.

Gifts to the Comadre Program Provide:
  • Education on breast cancer and breast health: one-on-one, at group platicas and through community outreach
  • Patient navigation by peers
  • Gasoline gift cards for transportation to and from cancer treatment appointments

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