Tree of Hope. 16th annual We Believe Gala bringing awareness and hope for change

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Photo by: Jelani Grant TC Reporter

BY: JELANI GRANT 

Throughout the night guests filled out their donation cards and had a ribbon signed with their name displayed on stage. The ribbons were pinned to the new Tree of Hope, presented at The Olive Branch of Hope’s(TOBOH) 16th Annual Fundraising Gala. Hosted by Dr. Nickett Donaldson-Kabwe and Patrick Archibong, the fundraising dinner was held at the Paradise Banquet and Convention Centre.

A full course dinner was served to the sounds of vocalist Susan Grogan and BluSoul. Raffle prizes as high as $1,000 were awarded to guests and a door prize of one return ticket to Barbados was also up for grabs. Toronto’s Consul General of Barbados, Haynesley Benn was in attendance at the gala to support the cause and spoke briefly about the difference the organization has made for so many people. “you give women a lot of hope and I trust that we men will continue to support,” he said.

“The foundation is standing on the promises of the lord…the Olive Branch is standing on a solid foundation and everything around them is sinking sand,” said TOBOH President Andrea Moncrieffe.

Moncrieffe congratulated both founders surviving cancer, reminding guests and TOBOH members to be proud of the progress made thus far. Leila Springer was diagnosed with stage three advanced breast cancer and Winsome Johnson was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. It was at this time that they both realized black women were not being regarded the same in the eyes of the healthcare system.

In fact, a study, conducted between 2010 and 2014 by the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Cancer Review, found that black women were the most likely to die from breast cancer. Keynote speaker for this year was surgical oncologist Dr. Lisa Newman, who provided attendees with a greater awareness of breast cancer through her slideshow of medical studies and cases.

The studies she conducted with her colleagues supported the notion that black women have been the most disadvantaged by the health care system. Dr. Newman related the higher rates of breast cancer deaths among black women to the health care services provided, compared to other demographics. One of the reasons for the gap in breast cancer mortality was socio-economic drawbacks amongst black communities, such as no health insurance, unemployment, and poverty. “These types of socioeconomic disadvantages lead to delayed breast cancer diagnosis, breast cancer treatment, and ultimately resulting in higher mortality rates,” she said.

Dr. Newman said she and her colleagues pulled together statistics comparing the mortality rates of black and white women and accounted for factors such as socio-economic status and poverty. With those barriers regarded, she said they found that African-American women still had a 30% higher death rate. She said another reasonable theory to pose for these mortality gaps is, “Are health care providers and oncologists delivering inappropriate, inadequate care to the African-American community with breast cancer.”

To support this theory, Dr. Newman provided slides of professional actors with different ethnicities and backgrounds scripted to describe symptoms of chest pains in an emergency room, which would then be reviewed by a selection of 700 doctors. The doctors were then asked whether these patients with identical symptoms should have further tests done and the results found that particularly black women were less likely to be recommended to have further work done. “I don’t think that these physicians were directly discriminatory, but I think what this study points out is that we all carry around biases that we may not even be aware of, but when it comes to medical care these biases can have harmful effects,” she said. 

Dr. Newman became Director of the Breast Oncology Program for the multi-hospital Henry Ford Health System in December 2015. She also serves as Founding Medical Director for the new HFHS International Center for the Study of Breast Cancer Subtypes. Dr. Newman’s primary research has focused on ethnicity-related variation in breast cancer risk and outcome, the evaluation and management of high-risk patients, broadened applications for neo-adjuvant chemotherapy, and special surgical techniques such as the skin-sparing mastectomy and lymphatic mapping. 

For the past seventeen years, the organization has supported those affected by breast cancer, ensuring African-Caribbeans receive the proper medical treatments and procedures. The non-profit demonstrates a strong focus on those of any African-Caribbean background, who are often diagnosed at a much younger age than other ethnicities with a more aggressive form of the disease than other demographics. They provide monthly support groups, educational seminars on health and nutrition, and faith-based support groups.

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