CHICAGO — While breast cancer is the leading type of cancer affecting Latinas, there aren’t a lot of programs out there addressing the issue. So a few years ago, a group of women decided to do something about it.
So began ELLAS ("En La Lucha a Sobrevevir"), which translated means, "in the fight to survive."
“We provide Breast Cancer workshops and we are also offering free referrals for mammograms and pap smears,” explains Founder and Health Organizer Araceli Lucio.
To support their work, they started with three women selling food on street corners as fundraisers. Today, they run a Pilsen thrift store stocked with donated items. The shop helps them raise dollars for a lot more than just a survivors group.
A few years ago, they began another labor of love meant to comfort women in one of the most difficult times of their lives. Partnering with Knitted Knockers, they create breast prostheses out of yarn.
The prostheses help low-income cancer survivors in the Latinx community who can’t afford silicone breast models. The knitted replacements aren’t as expensive, but can last about a year.
Juanita Arroyo is a breast cancer survivor, who says she had lost her insurance when she was diagnosed and didn’t know about support groups or resources.
“I was lost, I was always at home kind of depressed, crying a lot," she said. "When I moved to the South Side, my husband was watching the news and he saw something about ELLAS, so I came to the group — and ever since that I’m here.”
Arroyo said the program made an impact almost instantly, and ever since then it's been like her "second home." Now she’s giving back, managing the store and hoping she can provide the same help to other women that she received.
ELLAS is always looking for donations to raise funds for more programming, and help even more women in the future.