When Dora Arias was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003, the news completely threw her, she said. Even though the mom of two daughters had the support of her loving family, health insurance and financial stability, she was overwhelmed not only with the fear of leaving her family behind, but also at the thought of navigating the road ahead.
Arias, who was born in Colombia and currently lives in Mountainside, said she immediately thought, if she were struggling with her diagnosis, what must it be like for someone who didn’t speak English or have all the resources necessary to battle the disease.
A grassroots effort
In June of 2007, after conquering cancer, Arias started Curémonos, a grassroots, Summit-based organization to provide education, advocacy, and support to medically under-served women, primarily Latinas, who are dealing with breast health concerns or a breast cancer diagnosis in and around Union County.
While it wasn’t easy getting started on her own, by 2009, Arias registered Curémonos, which means healing together, as a non-profit and has been empowering women ever since.“I’m very passionate about helping Latinas,” she said. “I know about language barriers, socio-economic barriers, and the cultural differences. I believe that everyone in position to give back should and I’m in a position right now where I’m able to do that."
Making a difference
Since its inception, Curémonos has:
- educated over 1,000 women on the importance of breast health and early detection of breast cancer
- served over 250 medically underserved and uninsured women,
- educated over 75 healthcare providers on the cultural aspects and needs of Latinas affected by breast cancer
- established several support group and one-day programs to help Latina survivors learn how to reduce stress and promote good health.
Arias said she wants women facing a breast cancer diagnosis to feel better inside and out. With the help of local businesses, she has arranged makeover days at Sofi's Color Lounge, where food has been provided by Manhattan Bagel, Natale's Bakery, Village Trattoria and other local merchants. One of her volunteers, a breast cancer survivor, is a make-up artist at Neiman Marcus, who helps the women feel beautiful.
Arias said the day allows the women to get to know someone who is in a similar situation and they leave feeling good about themselves, and more importantly, not alone in their diagnosis.
In 2012, for her efforts, Arias was named a Model of Courage by Ford Warriors in Pink and Patient of Courage by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons for her work with Curémonos.
Speaking of Ford, in September, Arias and Jennifer Griola, executive director of Komen North Jersey Affiliate, met with Chip Duane, owner of Ford and Chrysler dealerships in Summit, to discuss collaborating.
"Duane has committed to donate to Komen and Curémonos proceeds from the sale of every car sold in October," Arias explained.
Beyond the local community
Earlier this month, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Arias appeared on ‘The Today Show’ and in Family Circle magazine to spread the word about her mission and said she has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of interest and support she's received ever since.
"People have been writing, 'How can I help you?', 'Do you have branch near me?', 'How can we start a branch?', 'How can I get a free mammogram?' One woman mailed me a check for $100. When I wrote her a thank you note, she wrote back to say, 'Dora, I give to many charities but I have never received a personal thank you note. I am going to send Curémonos $50 a month from now on,'" Arias said.
Although some questions have come from as far away as Texas, Arias said over the past seven years she has learned so much that she is able to point nearly every woman in the right direction to obtain the help they need.
"I feel like I am the traffic person, in the middle, sending them where they need to go. That is what Curémonos can do," she said.
In the new year, Arias said she wants to provide breast
health information to the homeless community in Newark by partnering with Bridges. The breast health advocate said she was surprised to learn that while the homeless women can receive information about diabetes, aids, and high blood
pressure, no one is providing breast health information.
Empowering women to be their own advocate
Another crucial thing she has learned on her journey is that knowledge is power. Arias said she advises that every woman should be her own advocate.
"Women need to understand which type of cancer they have, what stage it is in, and what is the best course of treatment," she said. "A lot of the fear women have comes from uncertainty. If we can help them understand each step of the way, then we can take away that fear."
For more information, visit Curémonos' website or email firstname.lastname@example.org.