Strengthening Community Partnerships to Advance Equity: Spotlighting The Peter Gilgan Centre for Women’s Cancers during Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October 14, 2022

By Rumaisa Khan

Over the past year, the Peter Gilgan Centre for Women’s Cancers at Women’s College Hospital has been working to address the unique needs and improve the health outcomes of Black women along the breast cancer journey. From the research that is available in Canada, we know that women from Sub-Saharan Africa are less likely to be screened for breast cancer in Ontario, and that lower screening rates may be due to stigma, discomfort, fear, and mistrust in the healthcare system. The dominance of white imagery in healthcare and health education can also lead to the erasure of Black women’s unique experiences throughout their care.

This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Centre has been pulling together a diverse team from across and outside the hospital to host an event on Thursday, October 27th, facilitating screening opportunities for Black women for breast and cervical cancer. Using a culturally relevant and representative approach, the event aims to provide up to 30 mammograms and pap smears with appropriate follow up care. Through partnering with Women’s Health in Women’s Hands, TAIBU Community Health Centre and the Olive Branch of Hope, the hospital is providing a safe and trusted space for women to learn more about early detection for breast and cervical cancer. The event also plans to feature concurrent mindfulness sessions hosted by a breast cancer survivor, art-based activities, refreshments, as well as navigators to provide a welcoming space at the hospital.

The community health centre, Women’s Health and Women’s Hands (WHIWH) has been leading majority of the recruitment for this event through tapping into their clientele and patient population. Hafsa Kombo, the Healthy Living Coordinator at WHIWH, comments on this exciting partnership, “Women’s Health in Women’s Hands is glad to partner with the Peter Gilgan centre for Women’s Cancers in this very important targeted outreach approach which helps bridge inequalities to medical access. Breast Cancer screening is vital and necessary to save lives -all lives.”

The Centre has also closely collaborated with TAIBU Community Health Centre, to learn from best practices around their Afrocentric screening approach, that saw drastic improvements in their cancer screening rates from 2011 to 2018 among the Black and immigrant population.

The idea for this screening event originated when earlier this year, the Centre hosted the free online event, ‘Breast Health for Black Women’, in partnership with Rethink Breast Cancer, the Canadian Cancer Society and the Olive Branch of Hope. Over 400 women attended the event online, where 90 per cent felt that it created a safe space to learn and ask questions, and 87 per cent felt that seeing an event specifically for Black women made them feel supported along their health journey. The positive feedback and responses received from the evaluation signaled the need for even more tailored supports for Black women, specifically around addressing unique barriers to screening.

Last Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Centre also launched ‘Every Breast Counts’, the first comprehensive hub of resources and information created for, and with, Black women experiencing breast cancer in Canada. Co-created with four Black breast cancer survivors, the hub includes representative images, community resources and videos from representative clinicians explaining concepts in plain language.

The most important goal of the Centre moving forward is to continue to bridge more partnerships between community groups and hospitals, where change can be fostered through building on each other’s knowledge and expertise.

“If we can continue on this path to developing partnerships with other organizations, we can work closely together to ensure these communities feel seen and heard and know that the health care system is inclusive and desires to meet the needs of all people regardless of race, colour or creed,” sharesLeila Springer, CEO of the Olive Branch of Hope.