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Valley study shows promising results for Latinas emotionally coping with breast cancer

Edelmira Ramos, 63, received news that she dreaded at age 55. She was diagnosed with breast cancer, Stage 4.

The Visalia resident was afraid of leaving her children behind, and had trouble dealing with her emotions after the diagnosis.

A month after being diagnosed, she underwent a mastectomy, removing one breast.

“It was very difficult,” she said in Spanish. “I felt like a monster. It was something that was going to take time in order to accept myself again the way I was. “

Ramos is among 150 Spanish-speaking Latinas, including 53 in Visalia, who took part in a three-year program dubbed Nuevo Amanecer (New Dawn) — and an accompanying study to evaluate the program’s effectiveness.

The program focuses on stress management for Latinas with breast cancer, and those who’ve lived through the disease.

Officials gathered in Visalia on Thursday to reveal preliminary results, although research findings have not yet been published.

Results of the program

In summary, Nuevo Amanecer resulted in less anxiety, less bodily symptoms, and it improved women’s ability to be able to relax. It improved their ability to seek support and increased their coping confidence, said Anna Maria Napoles.

Napoles is a scientific director of intramural research at the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities at the National Institute of Health.

The research will be completed and finalized in about five months, when findings on comparisons between women in the program and those not on the program, will become available.

Napoles said based on scientific literature, Latinas with breast cancer “suffer disproportionately from a lot of symptoms that are associated with the diagnosis of breast cancer.”

That’s in comparison to white women with breast cancer.

“They experience more fear, more anxiety, more depression, more pain, more bodily symptoms,” she says.

They’re less likely to understand their diagnosis, and not have information they need. As a result, they are not as involved in the decision-making process for their treatment.

They are also less likely to report symptoms to their providers.

Napoles said there are programs shown to be effective at improving quality of life after cancer, but those programs are often only offered at comprehensive cancer centers with a clinical psychologists.

“Those are not accessible to the every-day person who (has) no insurance, who is on Medi-Cal, or doesn’t speak English,” she says.

That’s part of the reason for the creation of this program and why it’s focus is on stress management.

How the program worked

Nuevo Amanecer is a two-part project — it’s an information and support program and a research study.

It offered participants cancer information translated in Spanish and stress management techniques. It also taught them communication skills, and provided emotional support, along with techniques on how to cope with negative emotions.

It helped participants set goals on how to take care of themselves.

The program paired the participants with compañeras, who were women who had gone through cancer themselves. Participants would meet with their compañeras once a week.

“We wanted to know if the program produced changes in terms of decreasing stress, anxiety and depression, and more importantly, we wanted to give women a sense of control over their cancer,” Napoles said.

In total, 75 women were enrolled in the program right away, while the other 75 waited six months to get in. That was done to be able to compare the effects on participants who were on the program versus those who weren’t, Napoles said.

The average age of participants was 54.8 years old, 90% were Mexican, 81 % had less than a high school education, and the average time since diagnosis was three years.

Forty-four percent had a mastectomy and 53% underwent radiation and chemotherapy.

Visalia was one of three locations where Latina women participated. The other two locations included the Salinas area and the Southern California community of El Centro.

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