Catching up with Ify Nwabukwu

Aging

In 2021, we spoke with Ify Nwabukwu*, Founder and Executive Director of the African Women’s Cancer Awareness Association (AWCAA), and pictured on the right; we learned more about her personal life and career leading up to her receipt of the 2022 AARP Purpose Prize. Here, we catch up with Ify to understand the impact of receiving such an award as well as new projects like her forthcoming book More Than My Cancer.

It’s been so nice staying in touch since our first conversation. What have you been up to?

The AARP Purpose Prize really increased the visibility and publicity for AWCAA and has resulted in new partnerships with universities that support our work in the immigrant community – specifically Howard University Cancer Center, Georgetown University’s Office of Minority Health & Health Disparities and Bowie State University.

Can you talk more about the grant you received from Bowie State University?

The grant AWCAA received from Bowie State University is a COVID-related grant allowing us to further support breast cancer survivors who are experiencing COVID.

COVID affects breast cancer patients even harder. It means that patients actively in treatment and survivors (like myself) have to strictly adhere to CDC guidelines. This grant supports our COVID outreach throughout underrepresented communities and zip codes—we’ve found that critical information and education are very limited in certain geographies. In addition to increased accessibility to necessary education, we’ve also found that one of the best ways to reach these communities is to give out PPEs and dry packaged food while performing educational community outreach. Our efforts are additionally supported by grants from the Maryland State Department of Health.

Are there any exciting projects or events coming up that have allowed you flex your creative muscle?

I’m very excited to deepen our connections with the Caribbean community— we’re hosting our first International Breast Cancer Awareness Festival on October 29 from 1-7PM ET! There will be music, including a Caribbean Band, African Band and performers, and possibly a Latino  band.

The festival will take place in the largest apartment block (Franklin Park Apartments in Greenbelt, Maryland), in Prince George’s County, and will allow us to pre-register women and screen them for breast cancer. I’m excited for men to be a part of this as we aim to de-feminize breast cancer and shine a light on both men and women being affected by this disease.

On October 28, we’ll be hosting our annual fundraiser, the Ladies First Fundraising Dinner Gala at the Samuel Riggs Alumni Center: 7801 Alumni Drive, College Park, MD 20742

Speaking of screening, are there any tips for folks reading this that you’d like to share?

According to research from the American Cancer Society, at least 3,000 newly diagnosed cases of invasive breast cancer patients will be men this year. And Black women are 40% more likely to die from the disease. Our research has shown that breast cancer affects people of color at a much younger age and the mortality rate is higher for people of color in general.

I encourage readers to: perform regular breast checks at home, screen early, and get involved in clinical trials—this allows researchers and pharmaceutical organizations to create aid that is better tailored to people of color. If we are not involved in research like this, how can people of color overcome their fear of going to the doctor? How will medicines suited for other populations provide us relief?

People have to realize that there’s been so much advancement in technology, that things are changing. Chemotherapy ten years ago is not the same chemotherapy that it is today. And cancer treatment is not a one size fits all experience. Treatment should and can be tailored to the individual.

We have to be at the table when critical health decisions are being made, otherwise, we end up on the menu! We have to take charge of our health!

It looks like you are still aging with attitude, can you share more about More Than My Cancer? What were major influences for this book? And where can people purchase it?

More Than My Cancer is a book I’ve always wanted to put together; it’s greatly influenced by my own experiences with breast cancer and loss. That’s why I’m excited to partner with Lucky Jefferson, a print and digital publisher, to produce this collection of poems and stories from men and women. My hope is that readers find hope and courage from the words within it and that they take back their power in managing their health. The book can be pre-ordered at morethanmycancer.com.

What can we find you doing for fun when you’re not working to raise awareness about breast cancer?

In my spare time, I enjoy talking to my nine grandchildren, catching up with their daily lives. They bring out the youth in me! I love cooking and trying my hand at new recipes. I also love to read and try to catch up with new books, especially new advances on technology with Breast Cancer.

*Nwabukwu has been a member of the Office of Minority Health & Health Disparities Research’s Community Advisory Board.*

NaBeela Washington, an emerging Black writer, holds a Master’s in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University and Bachelor’s in Visual Advertising from The University of Alabama at Birmingham. She has been published in Eater, The Cincinnati Review, and others. Learn more at nabeelawashington.com.

Photo: courtesy Ify Nwabukwu

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