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Mid-Southerners work to bridge the racial gap in breast cancer survival

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MEMPHIS, TN -

(WMC-TV) - Bridging the racial gap in breast cancer survival is groundbreaking work in the Mid-South.

Diagnosed with stage three breast cancer, Deborah Reid just gave up.

"When I found out, I said, 'Forget this, I'm not going to do nothing, I'm fixin to die!'" said Reid, Sassie Seniors of Memphis CEO.

The CEO of Sassie Seniors of Memphis immediately went to a funeral home, then to her pastor to make arrangements for her death.

"First thing I was thinking about, was being a burden to may family," she said.

Reid is now getting the treatment she needs.

But many African-American women across the nation, particularly in Memphis, are dying from breast cancer, while white women are surviving the disease.

"It's a call to action. It's a call to action for Memphis," said Edward Rafalski, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare. "A call to action for Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare to do something. And it's something we can fix."

It was a national study that appeared in the Journal of Cancer Epidemiology last April that had Edward Rafalski and his colleagues at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare trying to answer the call to reduce the number of black women dying from breast cancer. And it meant changing the way Le Bohneur treats its patients.

Methodist is now sharing a database with the West Clinic, helping less fortunate people get grants for screenings and transport vouchers for appointments.

And then there is the Congregation Health Network.

"Made up of over 500 churches here in Memphis, every denomination, a connection to all these religious organizations to raise awareness to connect people," said Rafalski.

That is how the medical system is changing to make a difference, but changing behaviors toward health care and breast cancer screenings is not easy.

"There are lot of us do not have insurance. We rely on the old folks remedy, it will go away... I don't want to be bothered, I've got other things to do. I got to go to work," said Reid.

Deborah Reid is not giving up, and she is now sharing a message for other women who may think a breast cancer diagnosis is a death sentence.

"Get that mammogram,' cause the life you save could be your own," she encouraged.

Methodist is hopeful that the changes to reach into under-served areas will close that disparity gap. It could be several years before the hospital knows if those efforts have paid off.

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