Andrea Ivory Saves Lives by Helping Vulnerable Women Detect Breast Cancer Early

2011 Community Health Leader turns her own diagnosis into a project for the greater good by raising awareness of breast cancer among uninsured women in South Florida.

    • November 8, 2011

A successful real estate agent in Miami, Andrea Ivory had been searching for a way to lead a more fulfilling life. The opportunity came in an unexpected package: a diagnosis of breast cancer. The grim news, she said, was her "aha" moment.

Instead of succumbing to the disease, Ivory beat it back—and has gone on to help countless other women target and fight it, too. Ivory realized that she was successful in her own battle against breast cancer because she had access to doctors who detected it early and insurance that covered the expensive treatments.

During the difficult process, she wondered about the fates of the many women who are not as fortunate and decided she wanted to help them. Putting her real estate skills to use, she mapped out neighborhoods and identified homes least likely to have access to health care. She and her friends began knocking on doors and dropping off literature about breast cancer awareness.

Today, Ivory's Women's Breast Health Initiative in Miami Lakes, Fla., knocks on more than 10,000 doors each year to educate women about breast cancer and early detection and how to receive low- or no-cost mammograms. A volunteer coordinator visits every college campus in the South Florida area to oversee some 4,000 volunteers. And the initiative reaches more women through a breast-cancer prevention website, www.b4pink.com. After conducting outreach in a particular neighborhood, a mammography van circles back to provide free breast cancer screenings. The organization does all this without the help of federal, state, or local government funding.

For developing a grassroots education and outreach program for women at risk of breast cancer, Ivory has been named one of 10 recipients of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Community Health Leaders Award. The award honors exceptional men and women who have overcome significant obstacles to tackle some of the most challenging health and health care problems facing their communities. Ivory received the award during a ceremony in Baltimore, Md., on November 9.

Ivory's project is an unqualified success. Statistics show that it typically takes 1,000 mammograms to identify two to four breast cancers; the Women's Breast Health Initiative has diagnosed women at twice the national rate. "We are reaching women who are at higher risk, and they tell their friends and family about early detection," Ivory said. "When we detect breast cancer early, it's better for everyone."

Mayate Cordones, a former reporter who is a Women's Breast Health Initiative board member, praised Ivory's dedication. "What Andrea has accomplished is nothing short of miraculous," Cordones said. "Her vision quickly evolved into a tangible community outreach program uniquely designed to reach uninsured or underserved women, one household at a time."

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