Chinese cultural tradition has long held that illnesses are to be treated after they become present, but many Asian-Americans have been heeding advice about preventive health care measures like breast cancer screenings.
"At first, we made people aware of self-exams," said Linda Yang, executive director and founder of the Xilin United Chinese School. "But it was difficult because this was a very private issue for the Asian culture."
At the first mammogram workshop some years ago at College of DuPage, 38 senior citizens were screened.
"But the college let us know that the language and culture was a barrier for them, so they helped us apply for funding to create our own program for breast cancer education and screening," Yang said. Soon after, the DuPage County Health Department contacted the Xilin center and offered to give a workshop and to train the screeners.
Today, hundreds of Asian-American women get regular mammograms at the community center.
New medical studies completed earlier this year show the difference screening has made.
"In all population groups, mortality is declining and fewer people are dying of breast cancer than in the mid- to late-1990s," said Dr. Joseph Kash, medical oncologist and director of the Breast Cancer Program at Edward Hospital. "That is thought to be predominantly from screening and treatment, and we're seeing the benefits."
Yang said the name of the nonprofit, Xilin, is the Chinese word for "hope" and is pronounced SHILL-in. With an annual budget of about $1.5 million, the center operates 10 facilities throughout the Chicago area that provide a variety of services. The Naperville headquarters has educational classrooms, offices, a dance studio and an activity area for senior citizens.
Throughout the area, Xilin centers have served about 20,000 meals to low-income seniors, according to June Yang, Xilin's public health director. Supplemental educational classes are offered to children from kindergarten through high school, including courses in mathematics.
"There's a concept difference between math that's taught in China and in the United States," said June Yang. "We teach a combination of Eastern and Western styles of math, but we use U.S. teaching materials."
In addition to programs about Chinese culture, specialized classes in the English language also are offered with the help of some teachers from College of DuPage. Linda Yang related the story of a Chinese student who did well on a placement test for the School District 200 gifted program, but who was not informed about certain English colloquialisms.
"The teacher told him he was a smart cookie, and the student told her, 'I am not a cookie,'" said Linda Yang.
June Yang said the performing arts programs at Xilin are taught by an all-volunteer staff, offering music, singing and dance. With some 150 participants, ranging from children to adults, Xilin stages dance performances for the public several times a year.
"The largest part is Chinese traditional dance," she said. "We also have ballet and modern dance."
Senior citizen programs include money management, group trips to go shopping and other activities.
In addition to free mammograms, health services also include blood pressure monitoring.
Kash said he recommended the proactive approach.
"When people don't go for screening, it's often because of fear," Kash said. "The reality is, when people get screened, their fears and anxiety go down."
For more information about the Xilin community center, see xilin.org.