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Moffitt's Spanish Outreach Teaches Women to Care About Their Health

Yo Me Cuido is a breast cancer awareness program that offers a workshop in Spanish.

The English translation of Yo Me Cuido is "I do take care."

"Like I can take care of myself," explains Jeannette Palencia, a senior community outreach worker for Moffitt Cancer Center.

Palencia and fellow outreach worker Myriam Escobar are spreading the message of self-care through the Yo Me Cuido Breast Cancer Prevention program, which was established in July 2011.

Through Yo Me Cuido, the women go out into Tampa Bay's Latino community and educate women on breast cancer screenings and healthy living. The classes are in Spanish and an effort is made to reach the women in their own settings like churches, restaurants and hair salons.

"The Hispanic culture is one that the women always take care of the family and the children. They always focus on everybody else but themselves," Palencia said. "Yo Me Cuido is about me taking care of myself first, so I can take care of my loved ones."

The rate of breast cancer is lower among Latina women than African American and caucasian women, but the group has a higher mortaity rate because the disease is often detected in late stages. Yo Me Cuido aims to empower Latinas to be their own advocate when it comes to their breast health.

The message is catching on.

Since it began in 2011, Yo Me Cuido has expanded beyond Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties into Polk. The program has reached more than 1,000 Latinas in 44 workshops over the course of 15 months, said Patty Kim, media relations coordinator for Moffitt Cancer Center.

"Latinas have really taken ownership of the program and shared the information with their loved ones," Kim said.

Yo Me Cuido falls under Moffitt's Outreach Wellness Education and Resources department. It is funded by the American Cancer Society and Walmart Foundation. 

With the funding Palencia and her crew conduct 2-hour long workshops throughout the community. In each class Palencia makes sure to explain what Yo Me Cuido is about. Signs and symptoms are discussed by a registered nurse as are diet and nutrition. Palencia advises the women on where to get breast exams and collects their contact information for follow ups.

"We show them how to do the self breast exam, we show them that they should do at their clinical breast exam, and we tell them about the mammogram," Palencia said. "We talk about the myths, statistics and the fears. All in Spanish."

Palencia and staff always call women 40 and older to ensure they received their mammograms.

"We're running into women 48, 50 years old who have never had a mammogram," Palencia said.

Part of Palencia's job is easing their fears to make sure they take care of their health. Creating a family environment does a lot to help. After every workshop Palencia and her co-workers stay around to chat with the attendees. They enjoy food and everyone receives a gift.

"I tell them you have to take care of yourself and look out for yourself," Palencia said. "Because you want to be there for your family."

The next Yo Me Cuido workshop will take place  at 7 p.m. Oct. 26 at Iglesia Misionera de Tampa, 10651 Anderson Road.

Interested in volunteering Yo Me Cuido program? Go to this website to register: http://www.moffitt.org/meet-our-team/volunteers

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