Celebrating those who strive to overcome disparities in cancer care to bring quality services to their patients, the Cancer Community Awards, sponsored by AstraZeneca, created the Catalyst for Equity Award. We spoke with Dr. Anne Marie Murphy, executive director of Equal Hope and winner of the award in 2021, to learn more about what’s happened since her organization received the award.
This podcast was produced for the AstraZeneca YOUR Cancer program by Scientific American Custom Media, a division separate from the magazine’s board of editors.
Megan Hall: In 2021, the Cancer Community Awards, sponsored by AstraZeneca, created a new award category, the Catalyst for Equity Award. This award celebrates those who strive to overcome disparities in cancer care to bring quality services to their patients. The organization Equal Hope won this first ever award for its work eradicating health disparities among Chicago women with breast cancer.
As we prepared for this year’s awards, we reconnected with Dr Anne Marie Murphy, the Executive Director of Equal Hope, to learn more about what’s happened since her organization received the award.
Well, Dr Anne Marie Murphy, I’m so excited for this opportunity to talk with you today. Thank you for joining me.
Dr Anne Marie Murphy: Thank you for having me.
Hall: If you’re explaining your organization to someone who is not in the health field, who hasn’t encountered cancer, how do you explain what you do?
Murphy: So Equal Hope was set up in 2008 after the publication of very disturbing data that showed that Black women in Chicago die of breast cancer at a rate higher than white women. But in other cities, in New York and San Francisco, there was almost no disparity in the death rate.
So we were established as a citywide collaborative to address this disparity and to really dig deep into understanding our healthcare system, the quality of mammography and breast cancer treatment, and other barriers that women encounter to accessing the best breast cancer care, including the best screening, the best diagnostics, and the best treatment.
Hall: So tell me about the kind of success you’ve seen since you started.
Murphy: African American women, when we started, died at a rate that was higher than white women, and we published a paper in 2017 that showed that differential has dropped dramatically, not zero, but dramatically reduced. Now, unfortunately, the pandemic has not been kind to people of color. We all know that disparities were significantly on display.
And we’re actually doing a project at the moment to look at what areas of the city have been most affected with women not going for screens during this time, so that we can concentrate our efforts in those zip codes where women haven’t returned for screening to encourage them to do that. So it’s a very comprehensive approach that we’ve taken, but I think it’s been extremely successful.
Hall: This is the first year that the Cancer Community Awards have included a Catalyst for Equity Award. So what has it meant to you to be the first group nominated and given this award?
Murphy: We were very excited to receive this award. And it really helps us in our endeavor, because it helps to encourage our partners. Many of our partners in the healthcare field, they went to a lot of trouble gathering data and sharing that data and being willing to actually give data to a project like ours. And so for them to, one, understand that the project has been very successful and then, two, to actually have an accolade for the project overall, I think is extremely encouraging and it really helps us move forward and do more, encouraged by this award.
Hall: How else has it impacted your work since you received it?
Murphy: Well, I think it’s always good to receive recognition for work. And so we’ve been able to tell more people about what we do. That certainly helps with people supporting our work financially, which of course we always need financial help, like every other non-profit. So that has been a major help in regards to shining the spotlight on our not-for-profit and showing that funding our work really does, in fact, make a difference.
Hall: Have you made any new contacts because of this award, met new people, formed any new partnerships?
Murphy: So interestingly, several of the other awardees, we were actually already familiar with. So that was interesting and nice. We were already a very collaborative organization working with such a large number of not-for-profits here in Chicago. So I think the award maybe reassured partners that we were working hard and making progress.
Hall: You’ve done so much since the organization started. And now, it’s been a year since the award. What are you looking forward to in the year ahead? What gives you hope?
Murphy: So I think when COVID struck, we really pivoted and we engaged in helping our community with emergency services. Now that we are emerging, at least to some extent, from COVID, we’re looking forward to outreaching to our community members to encourage them to now come back into the healthcare system, to engage in cancer screenings, and do our best to avoid a large increase in late-stage cancers.
We’re also working on helping people get primary care. We’ve noticed over the last few years that many of our clients are not attached to a regular doctor, a primary care provider, and it’s really important for all of their care that they have one. And so we’re working on encouraging that. We’re actually providing free visits at a whole variety of sites. And we’re also working to understand the reasons why people are disconnected from the healthcare system.
Hall: If you were to give advice to other organizations, what would you say is a good way to address health disparities in cancer care?
Murphy: The one thing I would like to stress in regards to working on health disparities is that it takes actually more than a village. It takes the whole city to work together on addressing health disparities. Health disparities are very complex. And therefore, I encourage those that are thinking of engaging in health disparities work to think about citywide, community-wide projects and have them based on rigorous science so that your efforts are intentional and effective.
Hall: Great. Well, Dr Anne Marie Murphy, it’s been such a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much for joining me today.
Murphy: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
Hall: Dr Anne Marie Murphy is the Executive Director of Equal Hope. In 2021, Equal Hope received the Catalyst for Equity Award from the Cancer Community Awards, part of the AstraZeneca YOUR Cancer program. YOUR Cancer brings together the community that is working to drive meaningful change in cancer care. Visit YourCancer.org to learn more about the C2 award winners and the YOUR Cancer program.
This podcast was produced by Scientific American Custom Media and made possible through the support of the AstraZeneca YOUR Cancer program.
For more remarkable stories from the 2021 Winners of the Cancer Community Awards, visit our Heroes of Cancer Care collection.