Women With Disabilities Celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month

In what made for an engaging and educational day, women with physical disabilities attended Independence Care System’s (ICS) annual Women’s Health Event, a celebration of Breast Cancer Awareness Month that featured activities and resources to support women’s health and wellness.

Since its inception in 2007, the event—held in partnership with Susan G. Komen Greater NYC—has offered women with physical disabilities the chance to learn new ways to enjoy staying healthy, to ask medical professionals health-related questions, have fun, and make new friends. This year’s event at ICS Brooklyn featured Wheelchair Zumba, breast and gynecological health presentations and a special reading and book signing with Nadina LaSpina, disability rights advocate and author of the new book, “Such a Pretty Girl—A Story of Struggle, Empowerment and Disability Pride.”

The ICS Women’s Health Access Program makes breast cancer screenings and gynecological and primary care services accessible to women with physical disabilities, an historically underserved population that suffers disproportionately from a lack of access to basic healthcare services.

Most recently, ICS helped support a newly-renovated radiology suite at NYC Health + Hospitals/Gotham Health, Morrisania that provides diagnostic services that are fully accessible to adults with physical disabilities.

According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. This year, an estimated 41,760 women in the country will die from breast cancer, one of the most common cancers in American women.

ICS supports women’s health

The Women’s Health Event began with an invigorating Wheelchair Zumba session, which kept participants active and taught them different exercise techniques.

Afterward, attendees enjoyed informative breast and gynecological health presentations.

Chief of Service OBGYN Raphael Stimphil, M.D. of Gotham Health, Morrisania, discussed when and how often to visit doctors for breast cancer, cervical cancer, sexually transmitted infection and skin screenings, and what to ask during visits. Dr. Stimphil also provided tips on how to tackle environmental barriers to cervical cancer screenings, including insurance, inability to find a provider and inaccessible examination tables.

Lehman College Assistant Professor Dr. Carole Baraldi led a presentation on breast cancer, where she discussed the importance of receiving a mammogram, debunked myths about breast cancer, and addressed signs and symptoms of breast cancer and next steps to address a diagnosis.

The event concluded with author and advocate Nadina LaSpina, who read excerpts from her new book and shared her powerful story of contracting polio as a child, navigating challenges she faced growing up with a disability in Sicily, and how she was inspired to become a disability rights advocate.

Educating women with disabilities

ICS Senior Vice President of Advocacy and Women’s Health Marilyn Saviola—founder of the Women’s Health Access Program and longtime disability rights advocate—said that events like these are crucial to providing information about breast, gynecological and reproductive health to women with disabilities. Another goal is to empower women to navigate healthcare barriers, including physicians who are unable to gauge and support their medical needs.

“People with disabilities don’t have as much primary care and they don’t get the information they need,” Marilyn said. “It is presumed that women with disabilities don’t need gynecological care and there’s an assumption they’re not sexually active.”

Marilyn said that that culture for women with disabilities needs to change.

“Many people who attend our event receive services from ICS,” Marilyn said. “Doctors need to be more aware of the needs of people with disabilities.”

ICS Director of Women’s Health Claire Abenante said that ICS strives to help members understand and manage their health. This event allows participants to meet staff and learn how to connect with disability competent facilities where they can receive their mammogram and gynecological care.

“As a grantee of Komen Greater NYC, we are committed to educating our female members about breast health and the importance of screening mammograms,” Claire said. “This event helps achieve both of those goals.  It is also a chance for our female members to come together as a community.

Women’s health event well received

Participants described the event as compelling and informative, and said they were grateful for such important health and wellness resources.

ICS member Manyon Lyons said that she enjoyed Wheelchair Zumba, and found the educational presentations lively and enriching.

“We get older, and health matters—breast cancer, gynecological issues—need to be discussed,” Manyon said. “We have a great sisterhood. ICS has always been an open space where you can ask questions, not be afraid or judged, and get answers.”

ICS member Iffat Mahmud, who attended the event for the first time, said she was impressed and embraced the unity among attendees.

“If we don’t have these types of events, where are people with disabilities going?” Iffat said. “We get to be a part of each other’s lives.”

ICS member Valerie Williams said she looks forward to next year’s gathering and emphasized how crucial the event is for women with disabilities.

“To know that you have resources, and you’re not alone? This is incredibly encouraging for women with disabilities,” Valerie said. “With each other, we’re stronger.”

Marilyn said the hope for the future is to host the event in a large conference setting or at a college and to expand into larger workshops, all while continuing to educate women with disabilities to ensure they can enjoy healthy, independent lives.

“Sharing valuable information is important, especially for underserved groups,” Marilyn said. “People have a right to quality healthcare, reproductive healthcare, and ongoing treatment.”

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