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Two Diseases, Too Many Lives

October has officially begun! So
many lovely activities go on this time of year – visits to pumpkin patches, the
changing colors of leaves, Halloween festivities – but this month is also
special for two other, very important reasons- October is Breast Cancer and
Domestic Violence Awareness Month. As we witness the abundance of pink unfold
before us in support of survivors of breast cancer and the search for a cure, may
we all also be cognizant of the impact both breast cancer and domestic violence have on the lives of women all over the
world. The numbers speak to the urgency of both of these issues: 1 in every 4
women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime and 1 in 8 women will
be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives. Better yet, let’s
make sure we bring these alarming statistics to the attention of others in a
way that validates the experiences of survivors of both of these terrible
“diseases” and rejects any dialogue that puts support for their “cure” at odds. Women’s lives matter. Those concerned with the health and
wellbeing of women have an obligation to be an ally to both of these important
Georgia Latin@s Against Domestic
Violence (GLADV) works with many advocates who frequently encounter women who
have never received or are long over-due for a breast exam or mammogram. Some
report finding a find a lump in their breast, but have no way of obtaining a
clinical exam due to the partner’s abuse and/or financial barriers over
which they had no control. GLADV’s founder and current Program Director, Michelle
Toledo-Caíñas, remembers one case that has lingered in her memory during her
years of advocacy work:  
“I remember one
woman in particular who was struggling to remain hidden from her abusive
partner trying to obtain treatment for active breast cancer. Her partner was
the primary policy holder on her health insurance plan, and he would regularly
cancel her appointments for chemotherapy. He even withheld her medication- with
dire consequences. During her stay in the domestic violence safe-house, we were
forced to jump through many hoops in order for her to safely attend medical
appointments, always aware that her abuser could turn up at her provider’s office
and/or find other ways to jeopardize her ability to pay for the cost of her
life-saving treatments.”
Perhaps part of the reason we are
hesitant as a society to provide these issues with equal footing has to do with
our propensity for blaming women. To be clear, women with breast cancer are not
typically seen as doing anything to “provoke” their cancer. Further, the “cure”
for breast cancer is seen as a likely outcome by the many who pour thousands of
dollars into research and commit many hours of advocacy to raising awareness- and
they are right about both of these things. However, the truth is that women do
not bear the blame for abuse any more than they do for cancer. Abuse is
perpetrated by some partners, overwhelmingly men, who chose to abuse women. To
be clear, the vast majority of men do not abuse women, but ending a culture of
blaming victims of abuse for their own suffering will require that both men and
women refuse to allow others in their communities to engage in victim-blaming
behavior, redirecting conversations about abuse in ways that highlight the
sexism and inequality that continue to contribute to a society in which some
men chose to abuse women. What’s more- we can end violence against women- a cure
is not out of reach. Whether we will or not, similar to finding the cure for
breast cancer is, in many ways, entirely up to us and our willingness to speak
GLADV encourages breast cancer
and domestic violence advocates, allies, and survivors to come together this
month. Why not consider wearing both pink and purple as we work towards a day
where women can live freely without the burden of the fear, shame, and secrecy
that is so often attached to both of these important issues. For those that
care about women, we have no other choice.
sharing the following with your friends and family:
A study by Schmidt, Woods, and
Stewart (2006) found pervasive reports
of IPV
from patients in their oncology practice.1
A study among 382 female patients
ages 40-74 at an urban clinic found that women experiencing IPV were 84% less likely than other women to be up
to date for mammography screenings.2
Another study found that women who
were victims of partner violence were more
than twice as likely
as other women to be diagnosed with more advanced
stages of cancer (breast, cervical, endometrial and ovarian).3
In a study of 553 female breast, colorectal,
and cervical cancer patients, 24%
disclosed lifetime sexual or physical IPV.4
1) Schmidt, NK; Woods, TE;
Stewart, JA. Domestic violence against women with cancer: examples and review
of the literature. 2006. The Journal of
Supportive Oncology. 4
2) Gandhi, S.; Rovi, S.;
Vega, M.; Johnson, M.S.; Ferrante J.; Chen, P.H. Intimate partner violence and
cancer screening among urban minority women. 2010. Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. 23(3): 343-353.
3) Modesitt, S.C.; Gambrell,
A.C.; Cottrill, H.M.; Hays, L.R.; Walker, R.J. Adverse Impact of a History of
Violence for Women with Breast, Cervical, Endometrial, or Ovarian Cancer. 2006.
Obstetrics and Gynecology. 107(6):

4) Coker, A.L.; Follingstad,
D.; Garcia, L.S.; Williams, C.M.; Crawford, T.N.; Bush, H.M. Association of
Intimate Partner Violence and Childhood Sexual Abuse with Cancer-Related
Well-Being in Women. 2012. Journal of
Women’s Health. 21
(11): 1180-1188.

Written by: Michelle Toledo Cainas & Alyse Lopez-Salm

Michelle Toledo-Caiñas
Michelle Toledo-Caiñas was born in San Juan, PR and has been living in the mainland since 1989. Michelle earned her bachelors of science degree in criminal justice from Florida Metropolitan University; her Master's in Forensic Psychology from Argosy University; and has currently been accepted at Capella University to pursuit her PhD in Public Safety Leadership in Criminal Justice. She originally formed the program as a task force with the support of her previous employee, Partnership Against Domestic Violence, in order to establish a better network of advocates who work with the Latin community. With time the task force also became a place for educational opportunity and a collaborative opportunity in the community. In the Summer of 2012, GLADV joined Ser Familia as one of their programs to keep serving the community. Although, Michelle herself is not a survivor of domestic violence, she strongly believes everyone deserves to have a healthy relationship with their family and intimate partner. Therefore education and awareness are imperative to her and bringing it to the community. She has over 100 hours combined of presentations and training in the subject matter of domestic violence. Michelle's invaluable experience also made her great addition to the advisory board of Encuentro Latino in 2010 – 2012. She has also testified in court as an expert witness in a domestic violence case and has had good success in planning and executing conferences and events.

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