Fighting Breast Cancer on the Home-Front: Celebrating 20 Years of Collaboration Between Susan G. Komen Maryland Affiliate and the University of Maryland

For immediate release: February 20, 2015

 Rhonda Silva, Division Administrator, and Dr. Shana Ntiri, Medical Director, of the Greenebaum Cancer Center's Baltimore City Cancer Program.

Rhonda Silva, Division Administrator, and Dr. Shana Ntiri, Medical Director, of the Greenebaum Cancer Center's Baltimore City Cancer Program.

For almost a quarter century, Susan G. Komen has played a critical role in the fight against breast cancer in the United States and around the globe by raising money through its Race for the Cure events to support research, education, and treatment of the disease. As a result, millions of breast cancer patients have become breast cancer survivors.

And for much of that time, the group has maintained a local presence that has literally made a world of difference in the lives of many women in Maryland.

The Maryland Affiliate of Susan G. Komen was founded in 1993, after the state’s first Race for the Cure was held. Since its inception, Komen Maryland has raised millions of dollars to fight breast cancer on the home-front, funding everything from education, screening, treatment and research programs at local medical institutions, to advocacy and awareness campaigns, to financial support for many inner-city and rural cancer screening initiatives.

The majority of the funds raised by Komen Maryland each year are generated from the Race for the Cure. Up to 75% of the net proceeds stays in Maryland to fund collaborative and innovative breast cancer education, screening, treatment, and support projects that reach women and families across the state. The remaining 25% of funding supports national research to find the cures for breast cancer.

Dr. Angela BrodieAs part of The Komen Maryland Affiliate Nursing Partnership: Advancing Education and Practice, the University of Maryland School of Nursing created the Komen Distinguished Lecture. The inaugural featured speaker was Angela Brodie, PhD, Professor of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, University of Maryland School of Medicine and co-director of the Program in Hormonally Responsive Cancers at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center. Dr. Brodie spoke about her challenging 20-year experience of bringing a highly effective breast cancer treatment, the aromatase inhibitors, to patients.

'A Tremendous Effect'

One of the largest and most prominent recipients of this effort has been the University of Maryland, Baltimore campus, which has received nearly $4 million in grants from Komen Maryland since 1994 and another $4 million from Susan G. Komen. It’s a 20-year relationship that everyone, on both sides, agrees is indispensable.

“Komen has had a tremendous effect in Maryland communities in bringing lifesaving messages and hope to millions of women on breast health and the importance of breast cancer screening, early detection and prompt treatment,” says Claudia R. Baquet, MD, MPH, Professor of Medicine and Associate Dean, Policy and Planning, University of Maryland School of Medicine, and Director of the Center for Health Disparities at the School of Medicine. “The 20-year relationship between the University of Maryland and Komen has supported our mission in educating the public and supporting programs and cutting-edge research on improving breast cancer outcomes. Komen’s support for addressing disparities in breast cancer screening and care have had a major impact.”

The feeling, as they say, is mutual.

“To have a relationship with the University of Maryland, one that is truly reciprocal, is something I’m proud of,” says Robin Prothro, BSN, MPH, Founding Chief Executive Officer of the Susan G. Komen Maryland Affiliate. “We are a small nonprofit, and I’m proud that we have the sophistication to partner with one of the most highly esteemed medical institutions in the country. Our mission is to find an end to breast cancer, and we can't do that without partnering with the scientific and medical community.”

Over the past two decades, Komen Maryland has shared its funding among the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s many schools, including the Schools of Medicine, Pharmacy, Social Work, and Public Health, as well as the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center, the University of Maryland Medical Center, and the University of Maryland Medical System Foundation, to name a few.

However, the University of Maryland School of Nursing (UMSON) has been the longest-standing and largest beneficiary of Komen Maryland’s fund- and awareness-raising efforts. It has also proven to be the one with the most impactful outcomes.

Transformational Support

Although the UMSON began receiving much-needed funding from Susan G. Komen’s national headquarters as far back as 1994, for its “Breast Health Project/Open Gates Clinic” and other initiatives, it wasn’t until a little over a decade later that support provided by the group would become transformational.

In 2006, the Maryland Affiliate of Susan G. Komen partnered with the UMSON to create a new initiative, “The Komen Maryland Affiliate Nursing Partnership: Advancing Education and Practice.” Started as an idea sparked by a conversation between Prothro, a graduate of the UMSON, and Janet D. Allan, PhD, RN, CS, FAAN, who was then Dean of the UMSON, the nursing partnership was launched as an expert-driven strategy to introduce breast cancer information into the nursing curriculum.

“With my background in nursing, and with my knowledge of patient navigation, I started asking, ‘What are we doing to educate nurses?’” Prothro says. “Nurses are so engaged with patients, and with women in particular, through the breast cancer treatment process, we need to do more to promote breast health understanding and knowledge within the nursing community.

“So I called Dean Allan and said, ‘Would you be interested in having a conversation about how Komen Maryland could support the School of Nursing to create some sort of educational program for nurses around breast health?’ She said, ‘Yes!’ That’s how it started.”

Education Specific for Nurses

Initially a three-year partnership, the goal was to heighten the awareness, knowledge and skills of both faculty and students by creating an educational program specific for nurses to enhance their clinical skills and overall knowledge around diagnosis, treatment, care and support of breast cancer patients. The program, which was mandatory for undergraduate students at the UMSON, represented the first time a Komen affiliate had collaborated with a nursing school.

Eventually, as it became successful, the program was extended for three more years and its curriculum expanded to include students in the schools of nursing, pharmacy and social work. The program also provided a variety of “extra-curricular” activities, including a visiting professorship, an annual breast cancer-related lecture, funding to send nursing students and faculty to an annual professional conference on breast cancer in San Antonio, and an educational outreach program to allow students to shadow community health workers and advocates.

UMSON also partnered with Coppin State, Bowie State University, Salisbury University, and the Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center to incorporate the nursing educational modules into the curriculum of other institutions statewide. As a result, under the six years of grant support from Komen Maryland, which totaled nearly $2 million, UMSON has been able to educate hundreds of students, faculty, staff, and community members, across Maryland, about breast cancer, individual risk, and risk models.

It’s hard to overstate the impact of the Komen-UMSON partnership, according to officials.

“Historically, in schools of nursing, if they do provide cancer information, it’s pretty general and there isn’t much devoted to breast cancer,” says Abby Plusen, University of Maryland Site Director, Pennsylvania/MidAtlantic AIDS Education and Training Center, who served as the nursing program coordinator at the time. “Even students who don’t go on to be oncology nurses will run across women with questions about breast cancer. And the university and Komen [were] providing them with the correct information to pass on.”

Sharing with the World

The crowning achievement of the Komen-UMSON partnership, Plusen says, has been the development of web-based teaching modules created by then Scholar-in-Residence Sandra McLeskey, PhD, RN. The original teaching modules were designed to provide a foundation of knowledge on every area of breast cancer for UMSON’s students only. However, McLeskey, a researcher who also taught students at the undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral levels, realized that through the use of the Internet UMSON could provide expert-driven breast cancer content to more than 3 million practicing nurses on six continents.

“This grant was unprecedented, both on campus and for Susan G. Komen, and was honored at the White House for its innovative and far-reaching effects,” Plusen says. “It was replicated by other universities across the country, and the educational modules were accessed from across the globe, including countries like Ghana and Germany.”

Perhaps most innovative of all, says McLeskey, a former professor at and dean of the School of Nursing, was that the relationship was ever formed.

“I don’t think anyone else would have funded these types of projects,” says McLeskey, who retired from SON in April 2014 after nearly a decade and a half of service. “We couldn’t have done what we did without the support of the Maryland Affiliate and Robin Prothro,”

Reaching into the Community

The effects of the Komen-funded support in Maryland extend well beyond the walls of the state’s medical systems and institutions. And nowhere are they more acutely felt and welcomed, says the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Dr. Baquet, than in Baltimore’s inner city, where health disparities are persistent and profound, especially in terms of breast cancer prevention and care.

At the heart of the 20-year partnership, she says, is a shared belief in the importance of three key factors: education, knowledge, and action.

“Support from Komen Maryland has touched our breast cancer patients at every point along the cancer continuum,” says Kevin J. Cullen, M.D., Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Distinguished Professor in Oncology, Professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Director of the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer. “From research dollars that have facilitated treatment breakthroughs, to nursing education, community outreach, screening and testing, and patient navigation, Komen Maryland’s support is touching the lives of Baltimore’s breast cancer patients and we are truly grateful.”

Komen Maryland’s collaborative community outreach efforts began in 2009 when the group awarded a $100,000 grant to support creation of “Make a Difference: Changing Baltimore’s West Side Story Project,” an initiative of the Baltimore City Cancer Program (BCCP). The goal of the program was to address persistent breast health disparities and to reduce breast cancer morbidity and mortality for uninsured women in West Baltimore by increasing education and screening services, including clinical breast exams and mammograms within the community.

“With the help of this grant, we [were able] to enhance our outreach, education and screening services by targeting the 21215 zip code which, according to statistics, has one of the highest rates of breast cancer within Baltimore City,” says Stacy Garrett-Ray, MD, who served as medical director of the BCCP at the time. “We are very grateful that the Maryland Affiliate of Susan G. Komen supports our efforts.”

Founded in 2001 as an initiative of the Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center at the University of Maryland Medical Center, BCCP offers free breast and cervical health education, screening and diagnostic testing, case management, patient navigation, treatment and survivorship support to uninsured women between the ages of 40 and 64 in Baltimore City. Over the past decade and a half, the program has screened more than 30,000 City residents, providing more than 18,700 free clinical breast exams and mammograms, as well as thousands of other cancer screenings.

Serving the Underserved

Komen Maryland expanded its support of BCCP in 2014, awarding the group a $100,000 grant to offer breast cancer screening and educational services to eligible Hispanic women in Baltimore City and the surrounding area. The new project, called “Latinos United for Cancer Health and Awareness,” or LUCHA, is a partnership between the BCCP and Nueva Vida, a cancer advocacy organization covering the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan region.

Komen Maryland’s support of LUCHA will allow BCCP to meet a critical need to identify Latinas in need of services and help them overcome any barriers to screening, treatment and follow-up care, says Shana O. Ntiri, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Family and Community Medicine, and current BCCP medical director.

“This grant enables us to reach this underserved group of women who may face language difficulties or other barriers to receiving care,” Dr. Ntiri says. “We are delighted to be partnering with Nueva Vida in this endeavor and very grateful for this support from Komen Maryland.”

BCCP also received Komen Maryland’s Pink Ribbon Community Organization Award for 2014 in recognition of the group’s ongoing role in the fight against breast cancer.

“Part of Komen’s mission is to help the un- and under-insured women and families who fall outside the traditional parameters,” says Prothro. “Supporting BCCP is a tangible example of how the Komen funding can make a difference in the community, allowing people to gain access to services and support that wouldn’t otherwise exist.”

The Next 20 Years?

Providing very basic aid to breast cancer survivors who are in need and access to healthcare by supporting patient navigation services in the community will be the priority for Komen Maryland and its medical partners for the foreseeable future, Prothro says.

“With the Affordable Care Act on the horizon, and the promise of equal access to healthcare for everyone — which is really Komen’s mission — we will begin to focus on helping people to get better and do better, in terms of treatment, and focus more on survivorship issues,” she says. “We can do this by continuing to work and collaborate with sophisticated medical institutions such as the University of Maryland to do research and evidence-based work, and to create programs that can  truly validate what we believe are the beneficial programs for people to have better quality of life as a long-term survivor.”