After her own experience surviving breast cancer, nationally renowned philanthropist Beatrice Welters wanted to “pay it forward” and help educate other women about breast cancer and the importance of early detection. And she is doing just that—through a new and innovative program at NYU Langone Medical Center.
On October 5, in the beautiful environs of the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, Welters welcomed noted leaders from government, business, philanthropy, and entertainment, as well as breast cancer activists from across the country and leaders from NYU Langone to join in the formal dedication of the Beatrice W. Welters Breast Health Outreach and Navigation Program. The grassroots initiative, under the auspices of the Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone, will advance access in medically underserved communities throughout New York City to important information on breast cancer and the benefits of screening mammography. The program is initially launching in Brooklyn, with plans to expand to the other New York City boroughs.
“Not only is this program educating women on breast cancer and the critical importance of screening and early detection,” Welters says, “but it also is helping them through one-on-one and direct interaction to navigate the sometimes complex healthcare system as a whole.”
More than 100 guests attended the dedication, at which Chirlane McCray, First Lady of the City of New York, delivered the keynote address.
Philanthropic Support, Community Outreach is Key
The driving force of the program is the work of its community navigators—individuals that help spread word of the program locally in places women routinely visit, such as churches, hair and beauty salons, gyms, and other pertinent locales. The navigators also work directly with clients to help them secure the services they need, such as low-cost and free mammography.
“Our goal is to have this program evangelized by trusted community members,” says Kathie-Ann Joseph, MD, associate professor of breast surgery at NYU Langone, director of breast surgery at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue, and medical director for the Welters program. “The navigators are already working their way through underserved communities to help women in Brooklyn, and eventually across the five boroughs, secure access to quality healthcare, particularly, services to advance early detection of breast cancer.”
The program, which began reaching out into targeted communities this past spring, is already helping women like Bonnie Wright of Brooklyn, who met navigator Sheila Willis at a Welters-sponsored health discussion.
“Sheila arranged for me to not only have a mammogram, which I hadn’t done in quite some time, but also to be tested for cervical cancer,” Wright says. “In all likelihood, I would have continued to delay these tests, or not have them at all, if Sheila hadn’t intervened on my behalf and help set up the appointments.”
In addition to Ms. Welters and her family, the program has received philanthropic support from the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Foundation, the Estate of Elizabeth Danes, the Shepard Broad Foundation, the Tandon Family Foundation, and philanthropists Shari McNulty, Celeste Guth, and Toni Ross.
Sharing Her Own Experience to Help Others
A noted businesswoman and philanthropist, and former United States ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, Welters was diagnosed in February 2007 with triple-negative breast cancer during a routine physical. This aggressive form of breast cancer has lower survival rates than others, particularly among African American and Hispanic women.
She was treated at the Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone by surgical oncologist Richard Shapiro, MD, who performed a mastectomy on Welters. Because it was caught early, she did not require follow-up treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Welters discussed with Dr. Shapiro and others how she could use her own experience to help others—and with start-up funding secured in October 2015, the Welters outreach and navigation program was officially born.
“Helping people like Bonnie is what this program is all about,” says Welters. “If we help only one woman navigate the healthcare system and receive the care that she needs, this work will have been well worth it.”