Celebrating its 25th anniversary, The Edna B. and Joyce Fay Washington Breast Cancer Foundation is funding mammograms and follow-up diagnostic care for the Natchez, Mississippi, community. We spoke to CEO and founder Joyce Washington Ivery on her dedication to helping others and the importance of early detection.
Meet Joyce Washington Ivery, Survivor & CEO
“I am a 30-year breast cancer survivor. After my fifth year, I wanted to do something for women who are breast cancer survivors. That was the birth of my foundation 25 years ago. It bears my mother’s name and mine. She was not a survivor, but she was so supportive to me when I was going through my experience, and she helped so much with my healing. I’m originally from New Orleans, moved to Natchez after Hurricane Katrina. Not with the intent of staying here, but it has been good.”
The Washington Breast Cancer Foundation supports breast cancer prevention and recovery efforts in both Ms. Ivery’s new and old hometowns, Natchez and New Orleans. Funds for the foundation are raised in part by donations from survivors and supporters and by the annual Hats and Gloves Tea on the Mississippi event, celebrating its 10th year in 2019.
What makes mammograms so important?
“I am extremely passionate about women receiving mammograms, and for them not to have to say, ‘I want one, but can’t afford one.’ If we can go the route of early detection, it gives you the opportunity to move forward in a much more positive light.”
“We can make a difference. I always say to people, ‘Please don’t be afraid. [A mammogram] is such a short period of time.’ One of the things that concerns me is that African American women are diagnosed less often than Caucasian women, but our death rate is higher. And that’s because we go at the third and fourth stage. We want to be able to make a difference.”
Why are so many women reluctant to get mammograms?
“There are women who say, ‘I don’t want to know.’ You just never know, but you don’t give up. You just keep sharing your experiences and hoping that seed that you planted will be watered and nurtured as time goes on.”
“I can remember when I was in the hospital, I said, ‘If I have to have my breast removed, I will just die.’ And we feel that way because of the way society talks about women and the breasts and the physique of a woman. You have to realize that yes, these assets are a part of me, but they don’t make me. If somebody steps in and encourages you think of yourself as a whole person, with or without your breasts, it makes a difference.”
Where does the grassroots funding come from for the Foundation?
“One of the ways we fund this project is through Hats and Gloves Tea on the Mississippi. It started in my backyard. We have gone forward since then. I always look forward to it happening and always want more people there. We have a silent auction and entertainment.”
“Other funds come through contributions and donations from citizens in the area and also New Orleans and other places. We make certain that people know 100% of their donation stays in the community.”
“The paper did a nice write-up about the tea, and I received a call from a young lady from Natchez who now lives outside of Atlanta. She said, ‘I’m going to share that with my friends. I asked one of my classmates if she knew anything about it, and she told me she got a mammogram from the Foundation.’”
“Well, that made my day. We know there is a need and in spite of us being a very small foundation, we can make a difference.”
“[On the day of the tea,] I opened the mail and in this little letter was a money order for $211 and a check for $700 that was from [the young lady who had called]. She shared [the news write-up] with people she worked with. She said people were so willing to share and that some of her customers were breast cancer survivors—the ones who were most willing to share. That was such a heartwarming experience.”
As a survivor, what advice would you give women battling breast cancer now?
“Continue to be encouraged. Ask questions. This is your body. Nobody knows your body like you. You have to fight. Know that this is where you are today, but you don’t have to be in that same place a month from now or a year from now. We can fight.”
We are so grateful to Joyce for taking the time to talk to us and for her efforts to help women get the support they need in the fight against breast cancer.
About the Washington Breast Cancer Foundation
The mission of the Foundation is to promote healing through culturally sensitive programs that address the psychological, emotional, spiritual, and educational needs of medically underserved women. It is a 501(c)3 organization and funding is derived from individual contributions, grants and fundraisers.