There are certain zip codes in Milwaukee where women are nearly twice as likely to die from breast cancer than women living in surrounding neighborhoods. This corresponds with a new study that reveals a stark racial divide when it comes to the disease.
That new study by the Breast Cancer Research Foundation shows that nationally, black women are 43 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than white women. We took a closer look at the impact here in Milwaukee.
"Marsha was just a good person," Wanda Richards-Miller said. "Sometimes she questioned why she got sick. Why was this happening to her?"
Marsha Blake, a speech pathologist for Milwaukee Public Schools, battled breast cancer and leukemia for years. She was just 48 years-old when she died.
Marsha's best friend, Wanda Richards-Miller, has made it her mission to keep fighting. She founded Fight for a Funky Cure.
"Make women aware of the fact that you have to be checked out," Richards-Miller said.
"I had been pushing a mammogram off," LaVera Poindexter-Adams said. "My thought was always, what are the odds? Nothing's going to be wrong. I don't have time for all that."
Getting checked-out is what saved LaVera Poindexter-Adams. She was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer after her first mammogram. She's gone through multiple surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation.
"It was absolute hell," she said. "It was awful. I tell everyone now, getting a mammogram is nothing compared to almost dying."
Thanks to her team of doctors at Froedtert Hospital's Clinical Cancer Center, LaVera has been cancer-free for six years.
LaVera and Marsha are just two faces of breast cancer in Milwaukee.
Doctors said there are seven zip codes here, where women are twice as likely to die from breast cancer than women living in surrounding neighborhoods. Each of those zip codes has a predominantly black population. They are 53205, 53206, 53208, 53210, 53213, 53216, and 53233.
"What is it?" Richards-Miller questions. "Is it something that we're drinking or eating?"
"If you're not fortunate enough to have the medical care or the means to purchase fresh and whole foods, you're at risk," Poindexter-Adams said.
There's a wide variety of potential genetic and socio-economic factors.
"Some women are just afraid to go to the doctor," Richards-Miller said. "Many women, if they don't have insurance, they will not go."
"Because there is such fear of the word cancer, even people who get a mammogram don't necessarily go back to get treatment," said Ginny Fin, the Executive Director of ABCD: After Breast Cancer Diagnosis.
ABCD is one of the local organizations that make up the Breast Cancer Coalition in Action, an initiative of the Wisconsin Breast Cancer Task Force, which is working to increase community outreach.
"To make sure that women who need access to the mammogram and the treatment get what they need," she said.
They're preparing to roll-out a project called "The Sister-Pact."
"To enter a pact or a promise with another friend, sister, mom, or daughter, that they will go get their mammogram. And after they do, if there's bad news, they will stick together so that they continue through treatment," Fin said.
Because women -- know better than anyone -- if we stand together, we can change it.
Milwaukee Health Services is offering a "Crucial Catch Day - Screening Saves Lives" event on Tuesday, Oct. 25. It will be held at the Isaac Coggs Heritage Health Center from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Women are invited to attend for free mammograms and to learn more about ways to reduce their risks and the importance of detecting breast cancer early through regular screenings.