Breast Cancer Fight Gets Personal for Liberian Woman in United States
Alvin Peabody | 10/21/2009, 9:17 p.m.
Maimah Karmo is on a mission. She is a Liberian woman who was first diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 32.
The daughter of a registered nurse, Karmo had learned from an early age how to do self-exams. When she found a lump in her breast in 2005, she immediately sought medical opinion. Her surgeon at the time told her she was too young to have breast cancer, but having experienced symptoms such as increased fatigue, Karmo insisted upon a biopsy. The procedure later revealed a case of stage two breast cancer.
Now several years in remission, the 36-year-old Karmo has joined the fight against the disease. She recently teamed with U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), also a breast cancer survivor, in crafting a bill currently before Congress that seeks to give victims the tools they need to prevent and fight the deadly disease.
The Breast Cancer Education and Awareness Requires Learning Young (EARLY) Act, if passed, will teach young women about risk factors and knowing their bodies well enough to determine when something is wrong. It also will instruct the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Ga., to conduct a national campaign to educate and raise awareness about the facts that young women of all racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds can and do get breast cancer.
According to an American Cancer Society (ACS) estimate, 10,000 women under the age of 40 get breast cancer every year. That number more than doubles for women just five years older. The ACS also reports that younger women have more aggressive forms of breast cancer, which result in lower survival rates.
€At the time I was diagnosed, there were no support services for women like me because most women diagnosed with breast cancer are much older,€ Karmo said in a recent newspaper interview.
Three years ago, Karmo founded the Tigerlily Foundation, a Northern Virginia-based non-profit organization that provides support, education and advocacy for young women fighting breast cancer. The organization offers support services in the form of friendships with other survivors, meals and financial assistance.
€Lilies remind me of a woman, strong, beautiful, proud and feminine,€ said Karmo in explaining how the organization was named. €When in treatment, a woman may lose her petals, characteristic traits that define her as a woman, like flowers during the fall and winter. But in the spring and summer, she rises and blooms.€
€Our motto is beauty, strength and transformation €" and we want women to know that they are beautiful, strong and be can transformed through all seasons,€ said Karmo, the foundation€s executive director.
In September, the Tigerlily Foundation held its First Annual Congressional Reception at the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill to raise awareness about the EARLY Act bill.
Among the guests at the foundation€s recent gathering were U.S. Reps. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) and Dr. Rachel Brem of the George Washington University Medical Center in Northwest and Vernice Armour, the first African American female combat pilot.
Armour, 34, was diagnosed with cancer as a young Marine at the age of 20. She had surgery two years ago and now gives motivational speeches around the country.
Wasserman-Schultz, the foundation event keynote speaker and the bill€s chief sponsor, outlined the importance of the pending legislation.
€The EARLY Act will encourage young women to be familiar with the look and feel of their breasts, to know what is normal and what the abnormalities and indicators are,€ said the Florida congresswoman, who was 41-years-old when she was diagnosed.
€It will help women make informed decisions and will also provide grants to groups offering help to people going through unique social, psychological and financial challenges,€ she said.
Currently, the EARLY Act measure sits before a health subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce panel. It has 365 co-sponsors in the House and more than 35 in the Senate.
€We are confident that the bill will pass,€ Karmo said. €But the key focus at the moment is getting additional Senate support.€
The Tigerlily Foundation will host its 2009 annual Breast Cancer gala on Thu., Oct. 22 at the Willard InterContinental Hotel in Northwest Washington. Among the special and honorary guests scheduled to attend are First Lady Michelle Obama and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Kathy McMahon of Comcast Sports. Call 888-580-6253 for more information.