Oza Holmes African American Breast Cancer Support Group: Sister Survivors Supporting Each Other

February 3, 2022

By: Sandra Millon Underwood, RN, PhD, FAAN
University of Wisconsin Milwaukee

Oza Holmes

As a nurse, Bonnie Anderson’s days are packed with taking care of patients, but as a breast cancer survivor, taking care of others—particularly African American women with breast cancer—is not a burden, but a calling.

“I am part of the Oza Holmes African American Breast Cancer Support Group. The support group was founded in 1993 by Valeria Banks, Mildred Leigh Gold, and Jestene McCord. The support group was designed for African American breast cancer survivors in our local community. The group aimed to give hope, love, and strength of the heart to our sister survivors and to help their daughters, mothers and sisters understand the importance of knowing their own body and the importance of caring for themselves.

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer that same year. Valeria Banks, one of the women who founded the group, was my ‘Reach to Recovery’ volunteer. She invited me to the support group. The first day I attended the support group meeting, it immediately took away some of my fear because I saw women who looked like me surviving and thriving after breast cancer,” said Anderson.

Anderson is now a group facilitator with that support group.

Oza Holmes passed away in May of 2017. Holmes, who was also a cancer nurse specialist, served as the group’s primary facilitator. The support group was named to honor her memory and her legacy.

“The support group membership exceeds 120 women. The majority of the members are African American breast cancer survivors; however, co-surviving family and friends, nurses, and other health care providers are welcomed to attend and participate in the support group. The survivor members vary in age. The eldest survivor member is in her mid-90’s and the youngest survivor member is in her mid-20’s.

“The support group exists for African American women who are diagnosed with breast cancer. We help and support them with any challenges they may face. We also host presentations on a variety of topics to help keep them healthy and whole,” said Anderson.

According to the National Institute of Health breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women worldwide, and in the United States it is the second leading cause of cancer death. Despite improvements in breast cancer detection, diagnosis, and treatment, it is well documented that African American women still are disproportionately affected by the disease. Compared with White women, African American women are less likely to be diagnosed at an early stage, have higher mortality rates, and are more likely to be diagnosed before age 40. While, African- American women have a lower lifetime risk of breast cancer, their mortality rates are higher compared with the rates among White American women. The roots of these inequalities are complex and include inequities in work, wealth, income, education, housing, and overall standard of living, as well as barriers to high-quality cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment services.

The Oza Holmes African American Breast Cancer Support Group meets monthly on the third Saturday. Initially meetings were held at the House of Peace Community Center, but when the building was under renovation, they moved to Aurora’s Heart Building. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the support group started meeting virtually using Zoom and teleconferencing.

“It’s good to stay connected with the women, even virtually, but in-person is better. We plan to begin meeting in-person, in the lower level of Ebenezer Church of God in Christ on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive beginning in February,” said Anderson.

On Saturday, February 19, the group is planning a special ‘drive-by event’ to honor breast cancer survivors.

“We have been meeting via Zoom throughout this coronavirus pandemic, but we miss that in-person face-to-face connection. During this drive-by event we plan to distribute gifts to our members as a tangible show of our love and support,” said Anderson.

For more information about the Oza Holmes Breast Cancer Support Group, individuals can call Bonnie Anderson at (414) 745-4684.