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Barbara Eskridge Talks the Importance of Cancer Screenings and Support

This local cancer survivor discusses her own diagnosis and how it changed the course of her life

When Barbara Eskridge was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in 1989, she followed doctor's orders, underwent radiation therapy and didn't ask questions. Like "most women," Eskridge says she didn't know anything about it—and didn't want to.

However, once she was diagnosed again, in 2001, it changed her career and purpose.

Once a banker, Eskridge, 71, is now a recruitment specialist for the Wayne County Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program, which offers breast screenings and follow-up treatment at no out-of-pocket cost to uninsured women in metro Detroit. It benefits from the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. BCCCP netted $729,423 last year, helping fund 815 screenings. The program, also funded by the state, served 8,899 total women in 2012.

For Eskridge, her work makes her a cheerleader of sorts. She encourages women ages 40-63 to get mammograms and pap smears. And she assures newly diagnosed women everything will be all right.

Why do Black women shy from connecting to each other when they have a common ailment?

It's hard. When I was first diagnosed in 1989, of course, at work they could not tell anybody why you were out, but people were calling me from work wanting to know what was wrong. When I got back to work, I said I had breast cancer. And two women came up to me and said, "I had it, too."  When I first heard about breast cancer, it was through (First Lady) Betty Ford. Otherwise, it didn't affect me. I did not care. There has always been a fear, because we are not willing to step up and say, " I am a breast cancer survivor."  (Women of color with breast cancer) need to see each other. We survive. We don't all die.

BCCCP reaches out to women, yet many refuse cervical or breast cancer screenings. Why?

We still get a lot of woman who don't want to know. They say, " What if they find something wrong with me? I don't have any insurance."  Fear is a big part. This is when BCCCP steps in, and I assure them that if they are diagnosed with breast cancer or cervical cancer, under our program, we follow them all the way through and make sure they are treated. Then, we get them on Medicaid right away.

And erasing that fear is why giving a face to breast cancer survivors is so important?

We are here. We are alive, and we are important. There is no skin color. There is no age. You are all there for one purpose, and that is to show you can beat this. You are a breast cancer survivor.

Where does breast cancer rank in fatalities for Black women?

It is a standard statement: More Caucasian women are diagnosed with breast cancer than (Black) women. But more Black women succumb to the disease. A lot of it is due to lack of health care. If they have no health insurance, they don't go get (screenings) done.

You were diagnosed twice?

In 1989 and 2001, and I spent 35 years in the banking world. So, finally, I said that was it. I am leaving. I started volunteering, and that came to part-time staff. Now I am 80 percent part-time staff, but really working full time. We love what we do. You don't mind getting up in the morning and saying, " Who are we going to help today?"

How important are the funds raised for BCCCP via the race?

That money goes toward the testing that the program won't cover. If additional funding is needed, they cover that big gap. Each dollar that they give is transcribed and accounted for. Karmanos oversees these funds to the penny. There are no frills. Now, the reason I say I am so honored to work for the Karmanos Institute is because they (say) in this hospital, they don't do anything else but treat cancer. And they made a statement: " We would be happy to close our doors any day."

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