In American Indian culture, the shawl represents the sanctity of womanhood. With this evocative symbol in mind, Carol Cameron co-founded the Wisconsin Pink Shawl Initiative. Since 2007, the organization has educated Wisconsin’s Native American population on the importance of early detection—and it boasts admirable results.
Compared to any other ethnicity, American Indian women have the lowest five-year survival rate for breast cancer. They are often overlooked in the breast-health conversation, but the Pink Shawl Initiative executive board is comprised exclusively of Native Americans, and many are survivors themselves. Being able to communicate with women as cultural peers increases the chance of the organization’s message being heard.
As survivors of American Indian descent, Carol and her colleagues have a unique perspective. In order to increase mammography rates, they first identified key motivators for a Native American woman to be screened. Understanding insights like, “A woman is more likely to claim responsibility for her health when she is her family’s primary caretaker” allows the group to operate more strategically. In fact, nearly 60 percent of women who attend Pink Shawl events schedule screenings.
As an additional preventative effort, the group created the Junior Pink Shawls. The program helps boost the confidence of Native American adolescents and institutes good breast-health practices early. By educating their community’s youngest, Carol Cameron and the Pink Shawl Initiative recognize the sanctity of every generation of women.
To celebrate National Breast Cancer Awareness month, the Wisconsin Pink Shawl Initiative held a mobile screening event at the Indian Community School of Milwaukee. Despite the cold rainy day, 16 women received mammograms and 34 clinical breast exams were performed.
Sisters, Janet Baker, age 52 and Jo Dolezar, age 56, were among the women who received mammograms at the screening event. Due to lack of insurance, Janet and Jo had not received mammograms for years. In fact, Jo’s last mammogram was in 1999. Furthermore, the sisters have a family history of cancer. Their sister, Jean, lost her battle with cancer at age 49.
Jo’s mammography results indicated she had two masses, which required lumpectomies. Thankfully both were benign. Janet’s results revealed calcifications in the tissue. As a result, both sisters are advised to return in six months for follow-up screenings.
Janet and Jo’s 86-year-old mother thanked Carol Cameron for the help and the encouragement she gave her daughters. “Within our generation … there are four of us that are breast cancer survivors … I am so grateful Janet and Jo have finally been screened,” explained their mother.
With support from Yoplait and the American Cancer Society, uninsured Native American women like Janet and Jo can get the care they deserve. Your donation to the Wisconsin Pink Shawl Initiative will help even more. Please donate now.