Like many college students, Lillia Evans cherished holiday visits to her Rochester, New York, home to reconnect with family and enjoy this special time with her mother, Evans’ champion and confidante.
Everything changed for Evans on a Thanksgiving visit eight years ago when her mother confided that she found a suspicious mass, which would later be diagnosed as breast cancer.
After a series of treatments, hospital stays and surgeries, Evans’ mother lost her courageous battle with breast cancer and set Evans on a path of breast cancer advocacy for others, including Black women like her mother who die from the disease at a higher rate.
“When I participated in fundraising walks, the people to the right and the left looked like me,” said Evans, senior executive assistant in Penske’s Southeast Region.
Evans will join Penske associates across the globe today for Penske Pink Out – an associate-led breast cancer awareness event now in its eighth year.
Associates will wear pink T-shirts, wristbands, socks and hats, and host fundraisers and awareness activities during this year's event.
Maggie Seaman, manager of operations for Penske Fleet Management, whose mother passed away in 2017 from breast cancer, created Penske Pink Out to promote breast cancer education and to provide support to those battling the disease.
“Every year we hear more stories of how breast cancer has affected our associates and still every year Penske Pink Out’s reach gets bigger and stronger,” Seaman said. “I’m incredibly inspired by our resilience and drive to raise awareness for a cure.”
Penske Pink Out coincides with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which seeks to bring attention to breast cancer and raise funds dedicated to finding a cure.
Breast Cancer by the Numbers
The National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) estimated 287,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the U.S this year and more than 43,500 are expected to die from the disease.
On average, every two minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, and one in eight women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, according to the NBCF.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, except for skin cancers. It is estimated that in 2022, approximately 30% of all new cancer diagnoses in women will be breast cancer.
Men are also at risk for breast cancer. An estimated 2,710 men are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer this year in the U.S. and approximately 530 will die.
While Black women make up fewer breast cancer cases overall, they are at increased risk to die from the disease.
“Although breast cancer incidences are highest among white women, and breast cancer death rates have dropped by 43% from 1989 to 2020, Black women continue to be 40% more likely to die from the disease despite having a lower incidence rate,” said Stephanie McDonald, director of corporate relations for the American Cancer Society (ACS).
“Not all women have benefitted from the advancements in breast cancer early diagnosis, treatment and care, equally. The inequities in breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and care have been identified by years of racial bias and discrimination among other factors leading to limited access to care, late-stage diagnosis, insurance or lack thereof,” she said.
ACS has partnered with The Links, Inc. since 2015 and recently developed the Health Equity Ambassador Links (HEAL) program. More than 250 Links members have been trained to date, with a goal to train more, to serve as health equity Ambassadors addressing cancer disparities and providing outreach, support and guidance across communities of color, McDonald said.
In addition, ACS is working with health system partners to increase breast screening programs and make them accessible to underrepresented communities.
Driving Breast Cancer Awareness
In the weeks leading up to Penske Pink Out, associates held fundraisers, shared breast cancer information, and rallied around those who shared how breast cancer has touched the lives of loved ones.
Now in its 30th year, the ACS’ Making Strides Against Breast Cancer has united communities to rally together in forming teams to raise awareness and funds dedicated to research, 24/7 support for cancer patients and access to lifesaving screenings.
This year 63 Penske Making Strides Against Breast Cancer teams participated in 40 fundraising walks and have raised nearly $65,000. A separate fundraiser led by Seaman has raised an additional $13,000 for the ACS.
A fundraising campaign by Penske’s Northeast Region sales team raised $7,000 to benefit Project Renewal. The New York City-based non-profit operates ScanVan, the country's first mobile mammography and radiology clinic for homeless and uninsured adults.
The funds will pay for 40 mammograms and 10 follow-up care procedures for patients with abnormal results. This is the third year the team has raised funds for Project Renewal. In all, associates have funded 80 mammograms for Project Renewal.
From Advocacy to Community
After her mother passed away from breast cancer, Evans reflected on her mother’s strength and resilience, and how she encouraged her daughter to step out on faith and pursue her dreams.
Evans, who graduated from Clark Atlanta University with a degree in business marketing and management, decided to return to Georgia and move on with her life. After some time, she began working at Penske, first in a temporary role and then as a full-time associate.
Her first project was working to support Penske Pink Out. Evans was moved by how many of her co-workers had a close connection to breast cancer and how her new company embraced the breast cancer awareness efforts of its associates.
“I realized I am working for a company that supports a cause that is so close to me. From then on, I continued to champion the cause because it was so close to home, and I was able to see how many people it impacted in my Region,” Evans said.
For Evans and other associates, the annual event creates a sense of community for associates touched by breast cancer.
“When I share a story about my mom’s struggle with breast cancer, I can share it and not feel ashamed. Everyone everywhere has a story, and they can relate to being affected by breast cancer in some way,” she said.
By Bernie Mixon