CHICAGO — When it comes to cancer, not all women are created equally.

So doctors need a special way to address the disease for certain communities.

The statistics are shocking, but more importantly there is a woman behind every number, women who need to find their cancer earlier to break free of the breast cancer prejudice.

Now there’s a new program to help.

Erika Aleman was 42-years-old at the time she discovered a lump.

“I was training to qualify for Boston, and I lost about 20 pounds. That’s when I was able to find my lump,” she said. “When I went to my local clinic, and I saw my doctor, she told me she didn’t think my lump was cancer, not to worry about it.”

But Aleman kept pushing. She sought another opinion and was ultimately connected with doctors at Northwestern Medicine far from her home near Midway Airport. Her diagnosis was triple negative breast cancer. 

Dr Claudia Tellez is an oncologist with Northwestern Medicine.

“What we’re seeing is breast cancers being diagnosed in younger Hispanic females and these subtypes are more aggressive, so their prognosis is worse,” she said. “What we’re finding is that despite Hispanics representing about 30 percent of the population here in Chicago, we are seeing less than 10 percent Hispanics in the major medical centers.”

Even though the rate of breast cancer is 28 percent lower in Hispanic women compared to Caucasians, the population is 20 percent more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage disease and has a 40 percent higher mortality rate.

“I never stopped running. I ran through my chemotherapy,” Aleman said.

Through 16 rounds and a double mastectomy, the marathon runner never let up. 

“I’m not going to lie it was very challenging,” she said. “But not everyone gets the chance that I got, so I didn’t want to waste it.”

Now Aleman and her doctors want to give more women the same opportunity through the Hispanic Breast Cancer Clinic at Northwestern. The goal is to help patients overcome language and financial barriers so they can access advanced care.

“Sometimes I’m scared because I feel like people might judge me, they might not understand what I’m saying,” Aleman said.

“Within the clinic we arrange for all the people that will encounter the patients to speak Spanish so they know someone will understand them,” Tellez said.

“Especially with Latinas, I think our biggest problem is not having proper insurance and maybe not having a decent job that we’re more afraid to lose days of work,” Aleman said.

More information:

“Our goal is to be available to service if not all the patients at least the majority of the patients,” Tellez said. “We want you here. We want to help you get here. We want to assist you in whichever way we can. We’re happy to arrange rides, pick you up at the corner, walk you to the clinic.”

“I don’t have the right words to express how grateful I am,” Aleman said.

Another goal of the clinic – increase Hispanic participation in clinical trials and help patients – even undocumented individuals — navigate the insurance process.

Join WGN News Saturday, October 28 at 6:30 p.m. for “Stories of Hope – Facing Breast Cancer” — a half-hour special that will explore a variety of topics for patients and their families including fertility preservation, nutrition and even aritificial intelligence and its use in mammography.

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