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Y-Me was an important cancer support group

Updated: August 18, 2012 6:28AM



I can’t believe Y-Me disconnected its hotline and shut its doors.

The people who ran the organization must have forgotten lives are at stake.

Like a lot of women, I knew about the breast cancer organization long before I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

In 1997, I interviewed a young woman named Cynthia Duncan. At that time, she was an enthusiastic volunteer for Y-Me. Meeting Duncan was a strange coincidence because Duncan is my maiden name.

Duncan was a two-time cancer survivor. She had gone to Lincoln Park High School to teach teenage girls how to do effective self-examinations. She also encouraged them to nag their mothers, aunts and grandmothers to get annual mammograms.

“A girl should be as familiar with the feel of her breasts as she is with the face she sees in the mirror,” Duncan explained.

After I lost my own niece, Asuntha Amundson, to breast cancer in 2000, I got involved in Y-Me’s annual Mother’s Day Race. It became a day for my family to commemorate our lovely Asuntha and to celebrate survivors of the disease.

Not too long after that, Duncan persuaded me to be one of the models at the organization’s annual fund-raising luncheon.

Over the years, I learned to appreciate the organization’s mission of ensuring that no woman would ever have to face breast cancer alone. Because the organization connected women from all walks of life, it was the perfect vehicle to deal with the anxiety and fear that come with a breast cancer diagnosis.

So when that calamitous day rolled around in 2009, I knew exactly whom to call.

I called Duncan. She dropped everything and rushed over to my office and let me bawl on her shoulder.

During my treatment for breast cancer, I discovered a network of women outside of Y-Me who also were battling the disease.

One of them was Demetria Horne, a young woman who had been fighting breast cancer for nearly a decade.

Despite her many health challenges, every time I saw Horne she was so upbeat and encouraging, I’d forget that she was in a life-and-death struggle. We talked about everything, including what the doctors don’t tell you.

In a lot of ways, these women supported Y-Me’s mission by being there for each other.

Sure, I had family and friends who gave me a lot of support. But only someone who has dealt with this disease could possibly understand what a cancer victim is going through.

Unfortunately, in recent years Y-Me strayed from its simple mission.

When it came to fund-raising, it began to look like Y-Me was trying to compete with “Avon Walk for Breast Cancer” and the Susan G. Komen “Race for the Cure,” when all the group really needed to do was raise money to keep the hotline going.

Then, in 2008, the Chicago chapter made a baffling decision to change its nationally recognizable name from Y-Me to Breast Cancer Network of Strength. That decision went over so poorly that three years later, the group was forced to go back to its original name.

But by then, the Chicago chapter had lost a lot of support for its Mother’s Day Walk. Even so, 20,000 people raised more than $2 million in this year’s event.

Apparently that wasn’t enough, and the organization abruptly closed its doors last Thursday.

“Incompetence and mismanagement” is how Margaret Harte summed it up. Harte is the founder of the group’s annual walk/race in Grant Park. “I think the way it was handled was extremely insensitive,” she said.

This isn’t the time for Y-Me to lose its way.

According to the American Cancer Society, in 2012, an estimated 226,870 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among women and about 39,920 are expected to die from breast cancer,

Harte hinted that there were “other things that nobody wants to talk about,” that led to Y-Me’s meltdown.

If that’s the case, people ought to start talking.

We needed Y-Me to be there.

† † †

In 2011, Cynthia Duncan was treated for a reoccurrence of breast cancer.

On July 10, 2012, Demetria Yolanda Horne passed away at 49. Her funeral services will be July 21 at St. John Missionary Baptist Church, 211 E. 115th Street. Visitation is 10-11 a.m. Funeral: 11-noon.



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