Street Smarts

Street Smarts Breast Cancer Awareness Program

Street Smarts is an innovative breast cancer education program that I recently devised to reach women who are homeless and who lack the self confidence and/or resources to identify their risk for disease and act on their own behalf. After working with homeless cancer survivors, I came to recognize that a lack of knowledge about disease and proper treatment isn’t the sole problem. Many women who have made their lives on the street feel unworthy. They’ve been used and abused, histories that weaken the drive to take care of themselves or value their own health.

In the video interview that I did for AACR (see above), I talked about the need for systematic change. Behind every feel-good story about one person helping another (for instance, me stepping up to buy a few groceries for Edwina or arranging to accompany her to the doctor), there’s a much wider gap. How we look at populations of people seemingly unlike us, how they look at themselves and how they treat themselves as a result–these are the starting points for making a significant and sustainable difference. I’ve been fortunate enough to gain support from the North Central Alabama Susan G. Komen for the Cure for the program. Their fantastic staff has agreed to partner with me to get Street Smarts up and running!

Street Smarts has two central goals: 1) to influence how women perceive their bodies, and 2) to provide health advice, specifically related to breast health and breast cancer awareness, on their own terms. Edwina Sanders and Lisa Brown, both stage 4 breast cancer survivors who have survived years of homelessness, offered their thoughts as part of a recent focus group. Both ladies provided excellent suggestions for the kinds of pampering services the community might be most receptive to and how best to convey a message of health and self care.

I just got news that CNN’s Headline News (HLN) will be covering the launch of the event in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, here’s the press release distributed by Komen to volunteers and/or folks willing to provide supplies for the first Street Smarts event:

Street Smarts
Street Smarts is an innovative breast cancer awareness program targeting members of Birmingham’s homeless community. Drawing on the experiences and input of women who are currently living with advanced breast cancer while making their homes on the street, the devised program has two specific objectives: 1) to address each woman’s self and body image, often damaged from years of sexual, physical and emotional abuse, and 2) to deliver concise, realistic messages about breast cancer risk reduction, screening, and treatment options.

Participants in Street Smarts will gather in a safe space for lunch, select spa services, and an educational session tailored to their unique perspective. At the end of the event, each participant will receive a tote bag bearing a breast cancer awareness slogan devised by women in the homeless community and holding a number of toiletry products to extend the message about self care.

Street Smarts was created by Dr. Cynthia Ryan, an English professor at UAB who has worked closely with this community for the past year and a half. Cynthia is also a two-time survivor of breast cancer who writes extensively about the experience of survivorship for academic and popular publications. She may be reached at or (205) 934-8600.

Toiletry products needed for 150 women:
* bar soap
* washcloth
* deodorant
* baby powder
* sunscreen
* toothbrush and toothpaste
* hand/body lotion
* sample-size perfumes
* baby wipes
* sanitary napkins
* travel-size kleenex
* brush/comb
* fruit (an apple or orange per bag)
* small packet of nuts
* bottle of water


3 thoughts on “Street Smarts

  1. I am deeply touched. I agree that lobbying is incredibly important. This country is far too rich for anyone to be without quality health care, a bed to sleep in and nourishing food to eat. Thanks for making it clear that as individuals we need to reach out now to those around us. In this economy there are no guarantees that we won’t end up being homeless or without adequate health care. We need to be there for others in the same way that we would hope they would be there for us.

  2. I stumbled across your blog today and was so encouraged. Ever since being diagnosed in April and throughout the past 5 months during my own chemo treatment, I have wondered about homeless women battling breast cancer. Each time I get into my bathtub I think about the women who are not as fortunate and have no place to soak their weary bodies. I have looked for programs in my area (Sacramento, CA) but have been unable to find much of anything.

    • Thanks so much for visiting my blog and choosing to follow it. More importantly, congrats on nearing the end of your treatment! You’ll find that cancer is a never-ending journey in some ways, but you will always see life from a much richer perspective. I’m working on getting Street Smarts trademarked, and then hope to spread the program across the country. There are more people than we realize suffering with cancer on the streets.

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