Zora Brown: Died to Keep Women Alive

3/13/2013, 4:35 p.m.

African American women in the nation's capital stand a far less chance of getting breast cancer than white women. However, African-American women die from breast cancer at a greater rate than white women. Why? There may be many reasons, including education or a lack of access to health care. But Zora Brown believed in her heart that the mortality rate could change if all women (and men) knew the importance of self-examinations and mammograms. Brown, 63, died earlier this month due to complications from ovarian cancer, but she dedicated her life fighting to end health disparities and other causes that lead to unnecessary deaths due to breast cancer.

At 32, Brown was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was the same disease that afflicted her great-grandmother, her grandmother, her mother and three sisters. She underwent a mastectomy of her right breast, and later she lost her left breast when cancer was found there, too. Her personal fight against breast cancer was the motivation for a crusade to increase public awareness. She took her message to local churches and community groups as well as to national television on shows that included The Oprah Winfrey Show and CNN.

Brown was the first African-American woman to serve on the National Cancer Advisory Board, appointed by President Bush in 1991. She established the Breast Cancer Resource Committee (BCRC), which seeks to reduce the mortality rates from breast cancer among African- American women. She also founded "Rise Sister Rise", a breast cancer support group model for African-American women, as well as Men in Action Against Breast Cancer, a support arm for BCRC. She, along with her nieces, also founded Sisters Accessing Skills for Survival and Intervention.

It is with great sadness that Brown, who lived in the District for many years, has died. But her crusade lives on in each and every woman who begins her day with a breast self-exam and who, while reading about her life, is reminded to schedule a mammogram. That's what Brown lived and died for.