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Kick It Cancer program targets early detection for minorities

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of stories about the Cancer Support Center and its nearly three decades of service to the community.

Kick It Cancer, the newest project at the Cancer Support Center, is being led by a 28-year-old cancer survivor.

“This is sort of the shining light of my journey,” said Shamiah Byrd who is serving as program manager for Kick It Cancer, an outreach program meant to meet the challenges of getting the word on early detection out into vulnerable African American communities.

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Before she learned about the program, Byrd was using her organizing skills to spread a cancer prevention message. She’d been coming to Cancer Support Center support groups since her breast cancer diagnosis at age 25. When she learned about the Kick It Cancer program, she applied for and was given the leadership position.

The program is focused on the African American populations in Posen, Riverdale, Hazel Crest and Burnham. A study by UChicago Medicine found high incidences of breast and prostate cancer in those communities. The Kick It Cancer program is funded by UC Medicine-Ingalls and the Coleman Foundation.

“Cancer’s a really scary thing. Nobody likes to talk about it, and we have a lot of people who go through it in silence,” Byrd said. “They don’t have the support or feel the support is there, so this program is kind of arching that support.

“Instead of community members coming to the (Cancer Support Center), we’re coming to them, and that’s what I like about this program because it has that organizing piece where we’re really trying to get to that root and talk to residents face-to-face on our own and build relationships so that we can build that trust. And this will be a long-term thing, not just a 2-3 year cycle, but a long-term, ongoing thing.”

The COVID-19 pandemic threw Byrd a curve ball. Her efforts for door-to-door messaging switched to meeting groups, church and political leaders to explain the Kick It Cancer project and to develop efforts to meet more people in those communities.

“I think it’s important for people to hear I’ve been there” meeting the challenges of cancer, she said. “I was you before and it wasn’t a big deal. I think the biggest thing, getting people to see it can happen to anyone and that’s pretty much the face of this initiative.”

“These screenings are important because of early prevention and early detection. And if someone does end up with the diagnosis they have the extra support” of the Cancer Support Center, she said.
In addition to her work with Kick It Cancer, Byrd is a master’s candidate in social work at the University of Chicago.

“I really love it because (outreach) is part of what I want to do as a professional but also as a human being, as a survivor,” Byrd said.

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