We're so happy to spotlight Desirée Walker in July for all of her work to support, educate, and empower women with breast or ovarian cancer. Among many other things, she has made a vital contribution to raising awareness of these diseases in African-American communities throughout New York City. She has also helped to ensure that African-American women facing breast cancer have culturally appropriate support.
In 2008, Desirée came to SHARE as a seven-year breast cancer survivor. She was interested in volunteering with our ovarian cancer outreach initiative in the African-American community. Desirée's strengths as a speaker, leader, organizer, and advocate were immediately clear to SHARE. Lee Miller, SHARE's director of special projects, asked her to join our "Patient/Doctor Communication: Side by Side" Program. This program helps to educate and sensitize medical students, fellows and doctors on how to deliver "bad news." Each survivor shares her experience with medical professionals and advises why it's so important to establish and maintain open patient/doctor dialogue at the onset. Desirée was diagnosed with a breast cancer recurrence in 2009, which took her on a journey of health challenges to the present day.
Although Desirée's involvement with SHARE waned for a while during her treatment, she remained on our radar. In 2011, she became a member of SHARE Leaders after attending the National Breast Cancer Coalition's Project LEAD. In addition, she was invited to be a member of SHARE's newly formed African-American Advisory Committee. The committee finds ways to make SHARE's services more accessible to African-American communities and to that end, created the SHARE African-American Ambassadors Program.
Desirée was asked to serve as an Outreach Coordinator for SHARE's Ambassador Program in Manhattan and the Bronx. In this role, she recruits new Ambassadors to develop a team; identifies and follows up with community-based organizations (CBOs) regarding their interest in hosting programs; and coordinates scheduling. She conducts presentations and staffs tables at health fairs to educate about breast and ovarian cancers at these CBOs also. Last year alone, SHARE Ambassadors reached over 2,000 women with life-saving information through presentations and disseminating literature at programs and health fairs. Desirée strongly advocated for the development of written material that African-American women could relate to and that addressed their needs. She helped write and design SHARE's new African-American Ambassadors publication.
In the course of her outreach, Desirée also identified a need for breast cancer support that wasn't being met in the African-American community. "African-American breast cancer patients/survivors I met at presentations often asked, 'Where do I find a support group where the members look like me?'" Desirée could relate to the question since she faced this same concern when she was first diagnosed. She was often the only woman of color in the group and found she and other members were sometimes unable to relate to one another's concerns. Desirée presented this challenge to SHARE and worked with us to form a breast cancer support group for African-American women that currently meets monthly at the Ralph Lauren Center in Harlem (call our helpline for information at 866-891-2392). She serves as the group's facilitator and has recently announced that the group will expand its hours to meet twice a month, one afternoon and one evening.
Desirée's efforts have made such a difference in helping to make SHARE's services available to women in underserved communities. As Desirée says, "Most people are aware that the pink ribbon is the symbol for breast cancer and that October is breast cancer awareness month. However, there is still a lack of knowledge about breast and/or ovarian cancer and a tendency to avoid discussing these diseases." Desiree is a vital member of our outreach team and an advocate, in addition to being a passionate and inspiring leader. We are grateful for her dedication, value her tremendously, and view her efforts as a "labor of love!"
Beth Kling is the former Communications Director at SHARE.