Latinas Contra Cancer ‘Holds Space for Patients to Become Powerful’

Podcast

Darcie Green, executive director of service and advocacy organization Latinas Contra Cancer, tells the CURE® “Cancer Horizon” podcast about how its work has broadened over the last 20 years.

The work continues, and evolves, for the team at Latinas Contra Cancer as the service and advocacy organization working with Latino patients with cancer approaches its 20th anniversary later this year.

“The needs have changed,” executive director Darcie Green, who has been with the organization for five years, told CURE®. “It's important for organizations to do this continuous check-in to see, 'Is our mission still needed? Have parts of it been accomplished, have the needs of the people we're serving changed?'”

Founded in 2003 by journalist and cancer survivor Ysabel Duron and based in San Jose, California, Latinas Contra Cancer has, according to its website, “educated over 7,500 individuals about cancer, resulting in hundreds of preventive screenings and many early detections.”

Darcie Green, executive director of Latinas Contra Cancer |  Photos courtesy of Helynn Ospina

“It's important for organizations to do this continuous check-in to see, 'Is our mission still needed? Have parts of it been accomplished, have the needs of the people we're serving changed?'” said Darcie Green, executive director of Latinas Contra Cancer.

Photos courtesy of Helynn Ospina

The organization piloted a patient navigator program at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Sobrato Cancer Center which was purportedly the first of its kind in 2010, trained more than 200 community health educators across the country, hosted National Latino Cancer Summits and opened a wig and prosthesis boutique.

Green’s connection to the work of Latinas Contra Cancer is deeply personal.

“My grandmother passed away of breast cancer, and while she was battling breast cancer and looking for a support community, she was in the very first support group ever held by LCC,” Green said. “And so, I know firsthand how important that work was at the time, and how really revolutionary it was, even defiant in a way, that patients deserved access to care in their language and in ways that weren't just based out of hospital settings and clinic settings, which can be traumatic for some people, you know, in itself.”

Green said that although Latinas Contra Cancer’s original mission of health education, research and fostering relationships between patients and providers was largely focused on individual behavior, and that work remains, in the modern medical landscape “the language around culturally and linguistically competent care is very normalized, at least here in the area where we're at. We know there are other places in the country that are lagging far behind. But for where we where we are, it's normalized, and many organizations have patient navigators.”

The overall mission, however, has “changed pretty radically” during her time with the organization, as Green explained.

“We have evolved to focus much more on systems and still holding up the importance of individual behavior but recognizing that you really can't individual behavior your way out of health injustice and systemic health disparities, that these are less about the problems with patients and more about a healthcare system that is just not adequately meeting the needs of all of its patients,” she said.

“And so, as we have started to look more at systems, and how we could have patients doing everything right — like my grandmother, right, everything was healthy: healthy lifestyle, maintaining a healthy diet, didn't smoke, drink, didn't do any of those things — and (they) still got breast cancer. … We're still doing service providing, we're still doing health education and patient navigation and patient advocacy, and all of those programs have evolved as you would expect. And we've added this other space of programming that is our first venture into what's not service providing outside of research. And so, we are full speed ahead into this area of patient organizing.”

In this episode of CURE’s “Cancer Horizons” podcast, Green tells us about the evolving mission of Latinas Contra Cancer and story of the organization’s Defensoras health advocacy cohort, a 10-week training program launched in 2021.

“As an organization, we have been very much changed by the (COVID-19) pandemic, because our population is the medically vulnerable, immunocompromised folks, and Latino and low-income,” Green said. “And in this area, we know that the Latino community was hit the hardest economically as well. And so ethically, our response to that has been: 'It's not enough just to help people navigate health disparity. It's not enough just to help people navigate what we know to be a completely predictable, preventable injustice. We have to eliminate it.' And not we as LCC, not we the individual employees at LCC, we have to start holding space for patients to become powerful, and to eliminate those disparities for themselves.”

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