Arlington The Arlington Free Clinic’s first breast cancer patient, Tshehai Fekede, is gearing up to run the 23rd Annual Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure in DC on June 2.
Fekede said she came to the U.S. in 1997 with her family, where everything, including the English language, was new for her. She said she had a friend at Shopper’s Food Warehouse, her place of work, who frequented the Arlington Free Clinic, where patients do not need insurance to receive consultations and treatment.
One day, Fekede said she felt a lump on her right breast and she went to the clinic, where afterward, she was sent to the Virginia Hospital Center to receive her first mammogram.
“I was the first cancer patient at the Arlington Free Clinic, period,” Fekede said. “The Virginia Hospital performed the surgery and the chemotherapy for six months.”
She said the Arlington Free Clinic was able to give her this treatment for free, in addition to medicine and support for five years.
Fekede said she has since been organizing a team for the annual Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure, a race whose proceeds go towards breast cancer treatment and research.
Paula Potts, director of foundation relations of the Arlington Free Clinic, said that Fekede is a “trailblazer” and became a “beacon” for the breast cancer cause in the Arlington immigrant community.
According to Aaron Estrada, public relations consultant for Susan G. Komen, when Fekede first attended the Arlington Free Clinic, there was not much breast cancer support or awareness within the Ethiopian community. With Komen's support, the program has grown and expanded and Fekede has continued to stay connected to the clinic as a "patient representative."
Estrada said 75 percent of all fundraised dollars stays within the area local to the race event.
He added that the current investment of $11 million in the D.C. area from Komen goes towards breast health programs such as the one at the Arlington Free Clinic.
Potts said the funds raised from the race are invaluable.
“The Race is what allows for non-profits like the AFC that Komen supports, which is providing breast cancer services for women,” Potts said. “All those people that gathered are usually doing the race for someone they know and that their lives have been touched by breast cancer.”
Potts added that without the proceeds from the Komen race, many patients would not get the care they need.
“Our patients are all low income, uninsured women,” Potts said. “The money stays predominantly in underserved and low income communities,” Estrada said. “The reason for that is that there are women in those communities who do not have the same resources or often times the support system that other women with breast cancer have. Also, a lot of these women are immigrants and English is not their first language. There is a hesitancy to get a mammogram; they are afraid.”
Potts added that there is no other organization in the D.C. area that addresses breast cancer issues in minority communities on the same scale as Susan G. Komen Global.
“Proceeds from the Global Race every year go to local organizations like the Arlington Free Clinic so they can continue their breast cancer education, screening, treatment and support for those that need it the most,” Estrada said.
He added remaining funds support Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s mission to address breast cancer on a global level.
He also added that this makes a huge difference to the Ethiopian community in Arlington that is affected by breast cancer.
“Arlington in general has a lot of different immigration populations in the city,” Estrada said. “Last year we were able to highlight ways that Komen funding has been able to help educate the Mongolian population. This year we get to talk about the Ethiopian population.”
Estrada said they are looking forward to what the 2012 race will bring to the D.C. community based on the proceeds from last year’s event.
He said $3.8 million in new grants to the D.C. area that came from last year’s fundraising.
Potts said aside from the fundraising, the Race for the Cure is a wonderful experience for survivors and families.
“Aside from raising the funds, the race is a wonderful experience for our patients,” Potts said. “A woman who has breast cancer and survivors pretty much stay within their own communities” and haven’t met a large number of women who have struggled with breast cancer. “They recognize that they are part of this community of survivors and it gives them an incredible sense of purpose and of hope and they realize they really are not alone. Our patients love the race, and their families do too.”
Fedeke said she has been a volunteer at the Arlington Free Clinic since 2000 and is thrilled to be a part of it because their efforts and contributions saved her life.
“These people are terrific, and still, half of my spirit is at the Free Clinic. They saved my life. It has been 14 years now,” she said.