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MAY 2012 – Curémonos, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping underserved women, particularly Latinas, to better navigate their way to breast cancer screenings, treatment of breast cancer and support, marked its third anniversary on Friday, May 4, 2012, with a celebration at the Park Avenue Club in Florham Park attended by volunteers, supporters, health care professionals, dignitaries, and many of the women whose lives the program has touched.
Curémonos engages Latina breast cancer survivors to provide education, advocacy, peer support, patient navigation and interpretation services to other Latinas affected by cancer. Curémonos helps ensure seamless, coordinated care and services, as well as timely access to care. They also provide Latinas timely access to the same programs and resources available to the English speaking community. The organization’s partners include Overlook Medical Center, Nueva Vida in Washington, D.C., and the YMCA in Summit.
The event was highlighted by an appearance by U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who praised the organization for its work.
“I want to recognize Curémonos for their extraordinary leadership on behalf of Latinas,” said Menendez. “The work you do to provide support, education and advocacy when it comes to addressing the devastating consequences of breast cancer on our women and families is so important to New Jersey, and I thank you. I pledge to you that I am making it my priority to ensure we are addressing the needs of Latinas and all Latino families in New Jersey. Providing Latinas with access to breast cancer screenings, ensuring they are able to receive treatments and that they can continue to lead long, happy lives after a breast cancer diagnosis is too important to let politics get in the way. Together we will succeed.”
Menendez, noted that Curémonos shared goals included in his own Patient Navigator Outreach and Chronic Disease Prevention Act, which was signed into law in 2005.
“This law helps promote community-based “patient navigators” to get people in to see a doctor for prevention and early detection, and to coordinate health care services and provider referrals,” Sen. Mendendez said. “It helps facilitate involvement of community organizations to provide assistance to patients, helps them enroll in clinical trials and anticipates barriers within the health care system.”
“I believe it is vital that we make sure Hispanic communities in New Jersey and across our nation have access to and receive the health care they need and deserve,” said Menendez. “It’s a victory to know that – because of language I successfully included in the legislation – community health centers, which are so important to the Latino community given that 35 percent of patients are Hispanic, will receive adequate payments from private insurance plans on the exchange.”
For the past three years, Curémonos has provided patient navigation services to more than 100 medically underserved Latinas and educated more than 500 Latinas on the importance of breast health awareness and early detection of breast cancer. In November 2011, Curémonos established a support group for breast cancer patients specifically designed for Latinas, incorporating culturally appropriate materials as well as a patient-centered perspective. All support sessions and educational workshops are conducted in Spanish and are facilitated by Latina breast cancer survivors. As part of the support group and in partnership with the YMCA in Summit, Livestrong Program support is also being provided to participants.
The anniversary celebration was not only an evening of recognition of how far the organization had come in just three short years, but for those involved, it was also a time to recall all of the personal moments and lives that had been changed along the way.
For Karen Scaff, a volunteer with Curémonos who also spoke at the event, a group of ladies at the celebration evoked one such memory – one which she called one of the best days of her life. Scaff, who is a Product Specialist for Bobbi Brown at Neiman Marcus in Short Hills, had the opportunity to do makeovers for these women, each of them breast cancer survivors. To Scaff, who did not have breast cancer but underwent preventative surgery after discovering a genetic predisposition to the disease, the event was a privilege.
“The ironic thing is, they said that I was so brave,” Scaff said. “I thought just the opposite. For them to have gone through chemotherapy and all of the struggles of dealing with breast cancer, I thought they were the brave ones.”
One of the women, Estela Echeverria, of West Orange, said that the makeover event helped her feel “like a new person,” after her treatment.
“When you go through chemo and lose your hair, you never think it’s going to grow back,” Scaff explained. “To see your hair and makeup done, you feel good about yourself.”
It was at the event that Scaff again saw Dora Elena Arias, the founder of Curémonos, which hosted the makeover event, A Day to Celebrate Life in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October of last year. It was prior to this event that Dora and Karen met for the first time. It was during this meeting that Karen shared her personal story with breast cancer. Her mother and two aunts had been diagnosed with breast cancer and Karen had tested positive for the BCRA2 gene. For Scaff, Arias - a breast cancer survivor herself - was a compassionate, informed voice during difficult times for Scaff and her relatives.
“We started talking, we started crying. It was a beautiful time (at event at Neiman Marcus),” Scaff said. “She was a wonderful support for me throughout my recovery.”
In just three short years, Arias has made hundreds of similar connections among women who have been touched by cancer in some way. With both English and Spanish roots, Curémonos means healing together. Its derivation expresses a mission to empower women through education and support in their fight against breast cancer.
Arias was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003. She was treated at Overlook Medical Center, where she met Stuart Green, associate director of Overlook Family Medicine. Volunteering with a breast cancer teaching program Green had started, and working with other breast cancer patients like herself, Arias saw the need for an organization that helped underprivileged women, particularly those of Latin heritage.
“I came into contact with many other women with breast cancer and was especially moved by the experience of medically underserved and uninsured women, especially Latinas, who are at an additional disadvantage due to language and cultural barriers,” Arias said.
“My breast cancer experience taught me many valuable lessons and forever changed my life in many positive ways. I discovered an inner strength and passion that I did not know existed. I wanted to find a purpose for my diagnosis and wanted to use my personal experience to help others,” Arias said. “As a Latina who achieved the American dream, I feel that it is my duty to help those who are less fortunate and to give back to this country.”
Her experience battling the disease inspired her to begin helping medically underserved women in the community to access health care services in 2007. Green said that in the earliest days of her efforts, Arias would personally drive underserved women to doctor’s appointments and screenings, and translate for patients with language barriers. She quickly recruited supporters of her mission, until the program began to take shape. Incorporated in May 2009, Curémonos officially became a non-profit organization shortly thereafter in July 2009.
Green, Board President of Curemonos, commended Arias’ work as a boon to patients that complements Atlantic Health System’s own approach to patient-centered care.
“Curémonos is a great example of patients helping patients – of the critical role passionate patient advocates can play in addressing disparities in access and use of health care by underserved minority populations,” Green said. “In collaboration with Atlantic Health System and other hospitals and professionals, Dora Arias and her patient navigators have become a go-to team for helping Latinas with breast cancer connect with care and obtain support. The growing relationship between health systems and community-based patient advocacy organizations is one of the most important developments in providing truly patient-centered care.”
At Overlook Medical Center, Curemonos staff guide women to the services they need and then work collaboratively with hospital professionals, especially Overlook’s Breast Center and Nurse Navigators, who then assist patients during their journey from screening to diagnosis and treatment, said Donna Delicio, RN, manager, outpatient oncology services for Overlook Medical Center.
“Dora and other Curemonos volunteers try to remove the barriers to care that some women, particularly Latinas, might have,” Delicio said. “Our collaboration allows us to be able to reach women in the community in new ways to provide better coordinated care.”
Peter Hyans, MD, FACS, a plastic surgeon from Summit Medical Group, who is also affiliated with Overlook Medical Center, said he was inspired by her initiative, having recognized a need for patients in need and Latinas. He joined the organization’s Board of Trustees.
“Patients like Dora put an enormous amount of faith in us as physicians, and because of that, I felt an organization like Curémonos was something that I could put my faith in,” Hyans said.
About Atlantic Health System
Atlantic Health System is one of the largest non-profit health care systems in New Jersey, comprised of Morristown Medical Center, Overlook Medical Center in Summit and Newton Medical Center. The three medical centers – all accredited by The Joint Commission – have a combined total of 1,308 licensed beds and more than 2,750 affiliated physicians providing a wide array of health care services to the residents of Northern and Central New Jersey. Specialty service areas include advanced cardiovascular care, pediatric medical and surgical specialties, neurology, orthopedics, and sports medicine. Each of these programs has earned top ratings and recognitions in their respective fields. Atlantic Health System is the official health care partner of the New York Jets and an official health care provider of the New Jersey Devils.
Morristown Medical Center’s Gagnon Cardiovascular Institute performs more heart surgeries than any other hospital in New York or New Jersey, and is one of 20 facilities across the country to perform catheter-based repair and replacement of valves on both sides of the heart. Atlantic Health System’s spine program – where surgeons perform more spine surgery than anywhere else in New Jersey – is one of just 13 hospitals across the country that has received the Gold Seal of Approval™ from The Joint Commission, achieving Disease-Specific Care Certification for cervical and lumbar spine treatments. With the Atlantic Neuroscience Institute based at Overlook Medical Center, the hospital serves as the hub for the New Jersey Stroke Network, and serves about 40 percent of the state’s stroke patients. The system’s Goryeb Children’s Hospital offers more than 100 board-certified physicians in 20 pediatric specialties. Morristown Medical Center is verified as a Level I Regional Trauma Center by the American College of Surgeons and designated a Level II by the state of New Jersey.
Atlantic Health System has been chosen for the past three consecutive years by FORTUNE® as one of the magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For®.” The organization has also been recognized four times by AARP as one of the “Best Employers for Workers over 50.” Inside Jersey magazine partnered with Castle Connolly Medical Ltd. and ranked Morristown Medical Center as the No. 1 hospital in New Jersey and the No. 1 hospital for treatment of heart failure and coronary surgery in the state. The survey findings also establish Overlook as No.1 for the treatment of neurological disorders and stroke in NJ. Atlantic Health System is a Major Clinical Research Affiliate with The Cancer Institute of New Jersey and is the primary academic and clinical affiliate in New Jersey of Mount Sinai School of Medicine and The Mount Sinai Hospital.