Daily Herald American Cancer Society
A helping hand Reaching out to suburban Spanish-speaking community

Finding the best doctor, the best hospital and best treatment plan was especially vital to Judy Guitelman, when the 47-year-old former speech therapist was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2005.

Judy Guitelman, program coordinator for Latino women and daughters
Judy Guitelman, program coordinator for Latino women at Breast Cancer Network of Strength Illinois, aims to provide care to Spanish-speaking women. She is pictured with daughters Marina, 16, and Tamara, 12.

"I knew nothing about the disease," admits the Hinsdale resident and mother of two teenage daughters.

"But coming from a family of doctors, I knew how important it was to get the best medical advice right away."

Early diagnosis is key

A native of Argentina, Guitelman says her early diagnosis with stage 1 breast cancer led to a subsequent needle biopsy, lumpectomy surgery to remove a 2 cm tumor and surrounding tissue, sentinal node biopsy, 33 radiation therapy treatments and an anticipated five years of the drug, Tamoxifen.

She credits her annual mammograms, which she had been having since age 40, with affording doctors a chance to make the diagnosis at her cancer's earliest stage.

"That's not always the case for many women in the Latino community," says Guitelman, who now serves as the program coordinator for Latino women at Breast Cancer Network of Strength Illinois.

"Because mammograms can be expensive and many are underinsured or simply don't have medical insurance, early detection by means of screening may not be possible," admits Guitelman.

"Some believe that cancer can't possibly happen since God is protecting them, others feel a diagnosis is something to get over and get on with life. Cultural differences preclude others from talking about prevention and early detection or seeking early answers when health problems arise."

Guitelman, who says that as a patient she originally had no idea where to go or whom to ask for support, says her cancer experience was the springboard for her work today helping others in the Latino community.

"I empathize with women facing similar startling news or those who forgo their own medical care while taking care of everyone else in the extended family," she says.

West suburban outreach

With densely populated pockets of immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries now cropping up in western and northwest suburban areas, Guitelman says her renewed efforts focus on expanding existing Breast Cancer Network of Strength programs for the Latino population into the suburbs.

"We're currently working to partner with the Visiting Nurse Association in Fox Valley to bring programs and services to both the Aurora and Elgin areas," she explains.

Guitelman points to a successful "A Day for You" program already in place at Chicago's Mercy Hospital which she hopes to see replicated in Aurora.

"We bring groups of 40 to 64-year-old women with no health insurance to the hospital for a complete day of clinical screenings, mammography and education on breast health in hopes of not only offering much needed information, but affording woman a chance for early detection," she explains. "It's our hope to bring this program to women in Aurora."

Women who participate in "A Day for You" are enrolled in the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program, where all women over the age of 40 without health insurance can receive free mammograms and clinical breast exams, and low-cost treatment if diagnosed.

She also hopes to partner with Rush Copley Medical Center, Aurora, in a Spanish speaking support group and Mobile Salon services offering free wigs, prosthesis and bras to breast cancer survivors.

"Reaching out to others is my passion," she says. "There's a definite need and I'm proud to play a role in fulfilling that need."

For information and support available in Spanish and more than 150 other languages, call Breast Cancer Network of Strength YourShoes call center staffed by trained breast cancer survivors at (800) 221-2141 or visit www.networkofstrength.org.


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