New Project Offers Support to Hispanic Women with Breast Cancer, Draws on Experience of Survivors

When Nena Cordova was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago, she knew she wanted to use her experience to help other women facing the same diagnosis.


"I knew I had to reach out.  I knew I had to help," said Cordova, 52, of Albuquerque.


Through a new project called Comadre A Comadre: One-on-one Peer Support for Newly Diagnosed Hispanic Women with Breast Cancer and Their Families at the University of New Mexico Cancer Research & Treatment Center, breast cancer survivors like Cordova can draw on their experiences to help other women who get the disease.


The Comadre A Comadre Project offers free support services, guidance, and information on cancer resources in both English and Spanish to Hispanic women who have been newly diagnosed with breast cancer through a "supportive friend" who has already been there the "Comadre."  Comadres are volunteer Hispanic breast cancer survivors who are at least two years post-treatment, who can share their own personal experience with breast cancer, provide one-on-one emotional support and offer practical guidance to newly-diagnosed patients. The project also provides support for the women's families.


"Through this culturally appropriate intervention, the project hopes to improve the psychosocial adjustment of Hispanic women with breast cancer, by increasing social and practical support, and thereby ultimately improving overall quality-of-life," said Elba Saavedra, director of the project.


The project comes at a time when New Mexico is realizing a staggering rise in breast cancer incidence rates among Hispanic women. In New Mexico, breast cancer rates among Hispanic women have more than doubled over the past 30 years. Hispanic women who develop the disease also tend to have poorer survival rates compared to Anglo women.


Women often experience anxiety, fear, confusion, and loneliness when receiving a breast cancer diagnosis, said Saavedra, and getting support from friends and family can make a big difference in their emotional well-being. She added that studies have shown that having supportive ties like participating in a cancer support group can help reduce stress, improve health outcomes, and even alter health-related perceptions, decisions, and behaviors.


Cordova said that as soon as she learned about the project, she knew she wanted to be a Comadre. To date, 22 Comadres, including Emmalou Rodriguez, 70, a 4 1/2 year breast cancer survivor, have joined the project.


"There is a great need out there for this kind of project," said Rodriguez. "The fear is so great you need the support."


The project also relies on volunteers who are the loved ones of breast cancer survivors who can offer support to the families of newly-diagnosed women.  One such family volunteer, or "Compadre," is Nena Cordova's husband, Bill Cordova.


"I feel honored to be part of this project," said Bill Cordova. "Once this issue hits your family, you have a different idea of what cancer is all about." He added that he suspects many family members feel as he did when his wife was diagnosed he wanted to help, but he didn't know how.


"This project provides the information to be able to be supportive," he said.


The project focuses on helping Hispanic women and their families in three areas:

·        Providing one-on-one support and comfort;

·        Helping the women and their families get information and referrals for community agencies and resources; and

·        Encouraging the women and their families to participate in cancer support groups.


Project volunteers receive training in how to offer support and comfort, get more information about breast cancer, share their personal experiences with breast cancer, and provide referrals to community agencies and resources to help with specific problems.


"Our volunteers are the heart and soul of this project. They are incredibly generous, compassionate and talented. They all have their own stories to share, and know first-hand what it was like when they first learned they had cancer, and how it affected them and their families.  I am humbled by the passion and commitment they have shown to this project," Saavedra said.


The Comadre a Comadre project was developed to address the unique needs of Hispanic women living in Bernalillo County, where Albuquerque (population 450,000) is located, and the surrounding counties of Santa Fe, Sandoval, and Valencia.


The Comadre a Comadre project integrates Hispanic cultural values and traditions like familismo, social networks, and viewing health holistically, and also integrates the importance of spirituality as a form of coping among Hispanic cancer patients. The project was based in part on past studies of Hispanic cancer patients that looked at culturally appropriate community interventions, spiritual well-being and the importance of family support with family including not only immediate family members, but extended family members and those chosen by the patient to be part of the family.


The Comadre a Comadre project is funded by the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. For more information about the project, please call (505) 272-5644.


The UNM Cancer Research & Treatment Center, founded in 1972, is the only academic health care facility in New Mexico dedicated to both cancer research and patient care.

Contact: Lynn Melton, 272-3322

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