Although I have a few pictures of my handsome grandfather, I do not remember him, as he died when I was a baby. Frank Llorens was born in Alicante, Spain and immigrated to United States, via Argentina, as a young man. He married my maternal grandmother, Antoinetta Cozza, an immigrant from Italy. My mom's macaroni and gravy and her Spanish rice dishes are a testament to her Italian/Spanish upbringing. I was extremely proud and felt extra special to have a grandfather from Spain, giving me a unique Hispanic heritage, as most of my Italian friends' grandparents from Italy had arranged marriages. A recent opportunity to work on an educational breast health campaign with and for the Latina/Hispanic community found me and I reconnected to my Hispanic roots.
Several months ago, I read preliminary results of a study led by Principal Investigator, Yale epidemiologist Beth Jones, Ph.D. which was featured at a poster session in 2015 at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Conference, about the disparities of breast cancer screening and knowledge of the impact of dense breast tissue in the Latina/Hispanic Community. Soon after, I met with Beth to discuss a project, spurred from her study, to provide culturally appropriate educational resources about breast health and dense breast tissue in Spanish, along with video featuring Hispanic/Latina women. The E.M.P.O.W.E.R.E.D. (Early Matters: Providing Opportunities With Educational Resources for Early Detection) campaign was born.
Breast health resources in Spanish, including a compelling video, are now available to educate women about the importance of their breast health. With a grant from the Connecticut Community Foundation, the nonprofit organization Are You Dense Inc., which I launched after I was diagnosed with advanced stage breast cancer within weeks of my 11th normal mammogram, led the EMPOWERED campaign.
Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in Hispanic/Latina women as they are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced stage breast cancer compared to the white non-hispanic population. Having a breast cancer that was found at an advanced stage because my dense breast tissue masked my cancer for years by mammography, it is critically important for women to be equipped with the same information their doctors have for shared breast screening decision making to reduce advance disease and in turn, reduce mortality.
In collaboration with Madre Latina, Inc., a nonprofit organization with a mission to equip women with educational resources, the EMPOWERED video features a breast cancer survivor, latina leaders and a physician. My contribution, in English, has captions in Spanish. In addition to the video, an educational brochure, ¿Como está su densidad? (Are You Dense?) is available on the website.
As we assembled in our local cancer center to film the video, I thought about my grandpa and the challenges and struggles he faced to fulfill his dream as a young teenager to find his way to America. I am a product of his dreams, aspirations, and his influence in my life as I honor him with my advocacy to improve breast health outcomes in the Latina/Hispanic community. Gracias abuelo Frank!