Komen chapters unite to strengthen the fight
Now a statewide organization, Komen Oklahoma strengthens its fight against breast cancer.
Abbi Lee, CEO of Komen Oklahoma, and Amity Ritze, a breast cancer survivor. Ritze leads Project31, a support group that partners with Komen Oklahoma to give women better resources to supportive care.
Nobody can deny the power of coming together.
Earlier this year, Susan G. Komen’s two Oklahoma chapters — Tulsa as well as Central and Western — united as one statewide organization to strengthen its fight against breast cancer.
“We are always evaluating what we can do to better serve our communities,” says Abbi Lee, who now leads Komen Oklahoma as CEO. “In doing so, we realized that we’re stronger together than apart.”
As a result of the change, Komen Oklahoma hasn’t dropped a single service to Oklahomans with breast cancer. In fact, it has expanded statewide its Komen Care Bags, bags containing items needed during treatment that are free to anyone diagnosed with breast cancer. It also has expanded its Patient Navigation Certification programs, which help connect resources and patients.
The group will maintain both its Oklahoma City and Tulsa offices and retain its signature fundraisers in both cities, but Lee says the merger will help them be better stewards of the money provided by partners and supporters.
“By coming together, we are able to not only share resources, but also bring together our strengths across the entire state,” she says.
Komen Oklahoma has a huge challenge. The state has one of the lowest rates of breast cancer in the U.S., yet Oklahoma’s death rate for the disease is among the highest. “There are several reasons, but lack of access to care is a major reason,” Lee says. “Women and men are not getting quality care soon enough. We also see that fear, lack of transportation, and lack of knowledge around breast cancer play important roles in why our numbers are the way they are.”
By coming together, the organization has strengthened and strategized its commitment to improve access to the full continuum of breast health care, including screening, diagnosis, treatment, follow-up and educational services, Lee says.
By funding education, health care access and research, Komen Oklahoma expects to realize its “bold goal” of reducing breast cancer deaths by 50% in the U.S. by 2026.
“We will be the first to admit that we cannot accomplish our mission alone,” Lee says, adding that Komen Oklahoma has provided $15 million between both locations in community grants to partners and breast health resource and service organizations since its inception.
In 2018 through grants, Komen provided 3,000 screening mammograms for uninsured women and men, 500 Komen Care Bags to newly diagnosed cancer patients and certified patient navigation services to more than 2,600 individuals.
More women and men are being screened and are staying in care through follow-up appointments, according to Lee, “and we’ve cut travel time to a patient’s doctor by 50% by providing health services in their community.”
With the new organizational structure, she expects all of those measures to improve as more people with breast cancer have access to critical services.
Breast cancer survivor Amity Ritze, 39, has personally benefitted from Komen Oklahoma’s efforts. In 2014, Ritze discovered she had dense breast tissue, a potential risk that providers at the time weren’t required to tell patients. After receiving an information card about how to conduct self-exams in the shower, she found a lump in her breast that led to a 2015 diagnosis of breast cancer, finding out it was Stage 4 in 2016. “The cancer was hiding in the tissue and was undetected in a mammogram,” Ritze says. “Dense tissue is very prominent in young women today and more women need to be educated about it”
Now as leader of an emotional support group for breast cancer survivors called Project31, Ritze says she is spreading the sense of hope Komen Oklahoma offers to other women with cancer. Project31 is a faith-based organization, led by survivors in 11 locations in Oklahoma City, Enid, Stillwater and Tulsa, focusing on reconstruction that often needs to be done on the heart, spirit and relationships with those closest to patients throughout breast cancer and beyond.
“The fact that Komen is coming together as one organization speaks volumes about its unwavering commitment to the community,” Ritze says.
Sept. 28 — Komen Oklahoma Race for the Cure
6 a.m., registration; 6:30 a.m., half-marathon; 7:30 a.m., timed 5K; 9 a.m., untimed 5K; 10 a.m., 1-mile fun run. River Spirit Casino Resort, 8330 Riverside Parkway. Individual and team registration available. Benefits Komen Oklahoma. komenoklahoma.org