Flushing support group targets Asian breast cancer patients

By Madina Toure

Before coming to NewYork-Presbyterian/Queens in Flushing, Ming-der Chang and Jessy Lau worked with Chinese patients at the American Cancer Society.

When they arrived at the hospital and discovered the large Asian community in Flushing and other parts of the borough, they were inspired to start the Pink Ribbon Club, a free Chinese-language peer support group for breast cancer survivors and patients, last year.

“We both have experience hosting support groups back about 15 years ago. After we moved to the hospital, we are very happy we can use our expertise here to help the patients,” said Chang, senior director of the Community Health Initiative.

The sessions, which feature lectures from doctors and other professionals on subjects of interest to survivors and patients, are held on the third Friday of every month at 4 p.m. at the hospital’s Julia and Ned Arnold Center for Radiation Oncology. The entrance is at the corner of 141st Street and 56th Avenue. The next session is scheduled for Oct. 16.

Partly initiated by the NYP/Queens Community Health Initiatives program, the goal of the program is to expand culturally sensitive services to the diverse communities served by the hospital.

About 15 percent of breast cancer patients diagnosed or treated at NYP/Queens are Chinese, according to hospital data, and Chinese patients make up 30 percent of the hospital’s total patient population. Chinese is also the second most common language spoken by hospital patients.

The club’s patients are mostly from different parts of Queens, but they also get patients from Chinatown in Manhattan, Long Island, Brooklyn and Staten Island. Between the club meetings and events the club hosts, nearly 200 people take part, with about 20 to 30 showing up to each meeting.

Some individuals come once, some come occasionally and others show up multiple times.

Lau, manager of patient navigation for the Chinese Health Initiative, said that as a thyroid cancer survivor, she understands what the patients are going through, but noted that the club volunteers are also survivors.

“They’re (participants) so eager to learn more about the disease,” Lau said. “They wanted to know anything, everything cancer-related no matter if it’s the diagnosis, treatment, nutrition or how to prevent it from occurring.”

Chang said language and cultural barriers make it difficult for Asians to deal with breast cancer.

There is a stigma associated with using pain-management medications, so people tend to rely on alternative medicine, she said. Families may also be hesitant to give up treatment for a loved one.

“If you don’t know the culture, sometimes when you are doing the standard way, you might not get the best results,” Chang said.

The hospital will have a team participating in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk Nov. 8 at 10 a.m. in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. It is also hosting a free lecture about women’s health and breast cancer awareness Oct. 24 at 10 a.m. at the Taipei Economic & Cultural Office at 133-32 41st Road.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour[email protected]local.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.