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Supporting Women Living with Breast Cancer

Written by Esther Kim, MPH and Anna Xing

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. While breast cancer is important to discuss year round, October is an opportunity for women to consider their breast health. Did you know that breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women in the United States (after skin cancer)? About one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer in her lifetime. Invasive breast cancer refers to cancer that has spread from where it began in the breast to the normal tissue around it.

For those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing treatment, support resources are available. It may be helpful to join a cancer support group to connect with others with similar experiences, share concerns and fears, and access support and resources needed to face and fight breast cancer. The Charles B. Wang Community Health Center offers a monthly breast cancer support group for Chinese-speaking women with breast cancer.

Among the many stories from the support group’s members is a story of Ms. Chu, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in her right breast, found after a routine mammogram. She had surgery to remove the right breast. Due to a chance of her breast cancer reoccurring, Ms. Chu was faced with many different treatment options following surgery. Feeling weak and fearful of choosing the wrong treatment, she decided to refuse further treatment. Her son and her doctor encouraged her to join the support group.

Ms. Chu attended her first support group session uncertain of what to expect. During the session, she was able to express to the women in the group that she felt she did not have time to fully process her breast cancer diagnosis before surgery. She shared that she had felt overwhelmed about making a decision about pursuing further treatment and scared to make the wrong decision. At the same time, she also came to the support group feeling regretful of her decision to refuse treatment. During the support group, the other members of the group encouraged her to weigh her options, seek a second opinion, and reassured her that she can change her mind afterwards. Through the support of the group, family, and friends, Ms. Chu found the confidence to move forward and scheduled a consultation with an oncologist. She believes with this new set of information, she will be able to pursue a course of recommended treatment that she is comfortable with.

More information and resources on breast cancer

There are screening tests available that can detect breast cancer early. Women aged 40 or older should speak with their healthcare provider about when they should begin screening for breast cancer. Mammograms and clinical breast exams can detect abnormalities or changes in a woman’s breasts before she notices any symptoms. All women are encouraged to be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel and consult a healthcare provider if she notices any changes.

Many factors can increase a woman’s chances of developing breast cancer, such as having a history of breast cancer in her family, older age, weight gain, or the use of certain hormone replacement therapies after menopause. Talk to your doctor about your risk for breast cancer and what you can do to reduce your risk. Aside from getting regular screenings for breast cancer, there are some things women can do to reduce their risk for breast cancer. Maintain a healthy weight especially after menopause through exercise and healthy eating. Reduce the amount of alcohol you drink. Consider breastfeeding your child.

Those without health insurance and low income may qualify for programs that offer free or low cost breast cancer screenings and follow up testing. To learn more about breast cancer screenings, please call (212) 966-0228.

For women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, the Health Center welcomes you to join its monthly breast cancer support group. Support groups are led in Cantonese and meet monthly at the Health Center’s Manhattan location on 268 Canal Street. For questions or to register, call (212) 941-2233 extension 2533.

Read and share our bilingual materials on breast cancer prevention and care here.

Written by Esther Kim, MPH, and Anna Xing. Esther Kim is the women’s health program manager at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center. She received her master of public health degree from Columbia University. Anna Xing is a program coordinator at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center. She received her bachelor’s degree in Biology from Baruch College.


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Health Education Week – Celebrating Health Educators

It’s National Health Education Week! Here at the Health Center, Health Educators are important members of the health care team. They link with patients, community members, and organizations to promote healthy lifestyle choices. Whether they are developing culturally appropriate educational materials with clinical staff, providing individual counseling or group educational workshops, or conducting health screenings at a community event, our Health Educators are invaluable to carrying out the Health Center’s mission.

We spoke with Eileen (Ai Ling) Zhang, the Health Education Department’s resident expert on workshops and community outreach. Eileen has been a Health Educator at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center since 2000.

DN: Why did you become a health educator?

EZ: I became a health educator because of my past experience as a teacher. I taught in China as well as the U.S., so I have had many chances to work with students. While teaching, I discovered that my students did not know about many health issues. Questions about diet like, “How much rice should I eat for my diabetes?” came up a lot. In fact, when I first started working at the Health Center, I was involved in a project on how cancer is related to diet.

DN: Tell us about your role at the Health Center.

EZ: I work with a team dedicated to creating education tools and disseminating health messages in many ways, including print materials, social media, and digital media. My language skills play a big part in my role. I know English, Cantonese, Mandarin, and other Chinese dialects, which is why I do a lot of outreach and facilitate many workshops, including medical terminology classes for our providers. I enjoy meeting people and teaching. Another role I have is reviewing our bilingual health education materials. They are developed with clinical staff to address the health issues that matter most to Asian and Chinese Americans. I review the Chinese translation to make sure the medical information is easy to understand. I think this is important because these materials are useful for our patients and community members. I am happy to play a role in helping people understand the health messages in them and make the materials more accessible through outreach.

DN: What health issues are you most passionate about?

EZ: Healthy diet and exercise. I think these two issues are very important for our community. We eat every day and there are so many options, so we have to think about which foods are healthy. Exercise is important too. This can be hard for people who work long hours and go home tired. Many people in the community work well into the night and don’t think it is possible to exercise, but there are stretching and chair exercises you can do at home, even while watching TV. I told a workshop participant about these exercises and saw him make changes in his life. With regular exercise, he ended up losing weight and even came back to another workshop to tell me about it. These experiences—seeing people make behavioral changes—make me feel like I’m making a difference.

DN: Can you tell us about a time when you felt that your job was important?

EZ: Once, I gave a workshop about cholesterol. Everyone listened so carefully—they even took notes! After the workshop, someone came up to me and said, “I didn’t know there was such a thing as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol.” These things aren’t always explained by busy doctors. Health educators play a big role in conveying these pieces of information to community members. After this workshop, many people said there need to be more workshops like this.


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Get the Flu Shot!

Written by Dr. Perry Pong

Cooler weather is coming back, and so is the flu. Now is the time to get your flu vaccine before flu season (usually from November until April). The flu virus changes every year and this year’s flu shot is different than last year’s.

The vaccine is recommended for everyone aged six months or older. It is especially important for people over the age of 50, children ages six months to 18 years, pregnant women, health care workers, and people working or living with the elderly or young children.

Even after you get the flu shot to keep you and your family healthy this winter, take these everyday steps to protect yourself from getting the flu:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

Get your shot early—protect yourself from the flu and avoid spreading it to your family and friends. Make an appointment with us to get your flu shot today. For open house dates and to see if you qualify, click here.

Written by Perry Pong, MD. Dr. Pong is the chief medical officer at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center. He received his medical degree from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, and completed his residency training at Veterans Affairs Medical Center New York. Dr. Pong is board-certified in internal medicine.