WASHINGTON – As Carla Williams thinks back, she believes that it was an experience in her own family that unconsciously became the impetus for "Women of Promise," a community ambassador program to get more women screened for breast cancer starting this month.
Not long ago, an aunt had detected a lump in her breast, but didn't do anything about it or even tell family members.
"We still to this day don't know why she didn't go to a doctor when she saw the lump," said Williams, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and assistant professor of Medicine in the Department of Medicine at Howard University College of Medicine and Howard University Hospital.
"Maybe it was not being able to face the possibility of cancer. We think she just hoped it was something else and hoped it would go away."
But it wasn't, and it didn't. Finally, one of the aunt's children detected something was wrong and took her to the doctor.
"She had a mastectomy and survived for two years, but eventually she succumbed to the cancer," Williams said. "If she had done something about it sooner, she might still be here."
Williams hopes Women of Promise, a program funded by the Susan G. Komen for the Cure and based in the Howard University Cancer Center, will change such behavior, a behavior that she said is still prevalent among too many African-American in the Washington area.
The program kicked off this week at Howard University. Andrea Roane, WUSA 9 weekday anchor and a Rebecca Lipkin Honoree for Media Distinction by the Susan G. Komen For the Cure for her coverage of issues related to breast cancer, has been named the Honorary Women of Promise Ambassador.
Women of Promise seeks 200 women to act as ambassadors to talk with women across the District, but particularly in Wards 7 and 8, about the importance of early screening and mammograms. The ambassadors will stress the American Cancer Society guidelines for women over 40 to have mammograms annually.
The ambassadors will be looking particularly for women who haven't been screened in the past two years, Williams said. And after identifying those women, they will follow up to make sure the women have mammograms done, Williams said.
The ambassadors also will tell women about the District's safety net for breast cancer treatment. For example, women who earn up to 250 percent of the poverty level can have a mammogram done free at participating hospitals, she said.
Additionally, the ambassadors will inform women about other free and low cost mammography programs such as the Rosemary Williams Mammoday program at the Howard University Cancer Center. The goal of the two-year program is to reach over 2,800 women, Williams said.
Early detection is the key when it comes to breast cancer, Williams said.
"Unfortunately, in D.C., black women are more likely to present at a more advanced stage of breast cancer compared to white women," she said. "Catching it sooner will help women have a better outcome, a better chance of survival."
To apply to be an ambassador with Women of Promise or to find out more about the program, call 202-806-5721 or email