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Cultural Connections

BY Marc Silver
PUBLISHED December 23, 2009

The unexpected van is one of many ways in which the Intercultural Cancer Council (www.iccnetwork.org; 713-798-4614) reaches out to America’s underserved. As part of its “Voices of the Community” project, the ICC gave $4,500 in seed money to Lyons, founder and president of Women of Faith and Hope, Inc., a Philadelphia-based breast cancer support group for African-Americans (www.wofah.org; 215-424-4180). The donation was a huge help, she says, covering newspaper ads, cancer literature, food, flowers, and a donation to the church that hosted the program.

The broader aim is to knock down barriers for everyone for all diseases. 

Established in 1995 and headquartered at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, the ICC works with hundreds of community-based groups across the country. The goal is to give them a national voice in the fight for quality health care. Ninety percent of the work targets cancer, says executive director Jay Silver, but the broader aim is to “knock down barriers for everyone for all diseases.”

Clinical trials should represent the population that has the disease, says Silver. Instead, they’re largely filled with “white males between 25 and 55.” In underserved communities, people may not be able to take off from work or afford transportation to a medical center. What’s more, some mistrust the medical establishment or may be reluctant to go public with a cancer diagnosis.

The ICC seeks to change the face of those trials. Using a grant from a pharmaceutical company, it has set up a program called EDICT (Eliminating Disparities in Clinical Trials). In addition, the ICC is now advising a national cancer organization on the best way to develop programs in the Latino community. It can be as simple as teaching cancer care professionals that “in some cultures, you look a person in the eye and others you don’t; some extend their hand to shake hands, others don’t,” says Silver. 

At the most basic level, the ICC is about listening to its constituents and helping them reach a broader audience. Venus Ginés, a breast cancer survivor who has Puerto Rican and Mexican roots, recalls going to an ICC meeting in 1995 and seeing few Latino faces. “How can you call yourselves intercultural if you only have a handful of Latinos present?” she demanded. 

Today, she no longer asks that question. “I consider myself the poster child for ICC,” says Ginés, a board member and an activist in her own right as founder of Dia de la Mujer Latina (www.diadelamujerlatina.org; 713-782-1800), a group that educates Latinas about cancer. Ginés is one of the many “voices of the community” who help the ICC live up to its name.

When an official-looking white van drives into gritty North Philadelphia, a fair assumption is that it’s a police command vehicle, says Novella Lyons. But not the van that arrived on April 28, 2007. This white vehicle housed a mammogram machine for a health fair Lyons was running. Twenty-one women got a mammogram; for some, it was their first.

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