Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun
September 19, 2012
Pictured: Socorro Cazares, who is being treated for a stage I breast cancer
When Socorro Cazares was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer earlier this year, she worried not only about her health but how to navigate a complicated medical system.
Although the 43-year-old from Mexico has lived off and on in Baltimore since she was a teenager, she still doesn't speak English well. She fretted about being able to communicate with doctors and understanding the complexities of treating her disease.
At the recommendation of a friend, she turned to nonprofit Nueva Vida for help.
The group that supports Latinos with cancer has provided Cazares with a support network to help her deal both emotionally and practically with treatment, which has included a mastectomy and chemotherapy.
Nueva Vida, which means "new life" in Spanish, helped ease some of the fears Cazares said she had about breast cancer. She felt a small lump in her breast last year, but a doctor didn't detect any signs of cancer. Six months later, the lump had grown and a biopsy confirmed the worst.
"It was really hard at first," Cazares said. "Now I am more calm."
Nueva Vida was started in 1996 in Washington, D.C., by a group of Latina breast cancer survivors, doctors and nurses aiming to address ethnic disparities and provide bilingual services to cancer patients. While the group serves Latinos with all types of cancers, a large number of its clients have breast cancer and it receives funds from the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
The group opened Baltimore and Richmond, Va., offices three years ago as the Latino population swelled in those areas. Most of the clients are low-income women who are underinsured or have no insurance.
The Baltimore office helped 16 breast cancer patients in 2011, 20 in 2010 and a dozen so far this year.
Nueva Vida provides free mammograms through affiliations with local hospitals, as well as transportation services. Counselors will accompany patients to doctor appointments and treatments and help clients access financial aid through government and other programs.
The nonprofit also hosts support groups and individual therapy sessions at modest offices in Fells Point it shares with Esperanza, another organization that serves the Latino population.
Many of Nueva Vida's clients don't speak English well and are afraid to go to a doctor because they are not in the country legally, said Sandra Villa de Leon, Nueva Vida program coordinator. They may work two jobs to support their families in America and still be able to send money to relatives in their native countries. Health care is not often a top priority and many seek help after their cancer has advanced into late stages.
"Many women come here and they don't know where to go," Villa de Leon said. "We help them navigate ... the health system."
Cazares has attended support groups and individual therapy sessions. Her husband also has attended sessions on how to help his wife cope with breast cancer. She took up yoga through Nueva Vida to help deal with the stress of the disease.
Cazares teared up as she visited Nueva Vida's offices recently. Wearing a yellow and blue knit hat to cover her hair loss from chemotherapy, Cazares said the group helped her feel less alone.
"I am so happy to find this program," she said. "It's not easy dealing with breast cancer."
More information on Nueva Vida can be found at 866-986-8432, email@example.com or nueva-vida.org.
— Andrea K. Walker