Andrea Ivory, Women’s Breast & Heart Initiative
Andrea Ivory, Founder & Executive Director, Women’s Breast & Heart Initiative

Words With Women: Andrea Ivory, Founder & Executive Director, Women’s Breast & Heart Initiative

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Andrea Ivory is a 16-year survivor of breast cancer. But rather than move past a disease that threatened her life, Andrea took her experience as a breast cancer survivor as the catalyst to create a movement toward women empowerment through better education. Surviving breast cancer made her realize early detection was a critical part in saving women’s lives. 

While many people might be completely focused on their own health during a cancer diagnosis, Andrea was thinking of others. She realized that her early detection played a big role in her successful recovery. She thought about the women who didn’t have access to such preventative care and those that lacked the same treatment options she had because of their socioeconomic status.  

Creating a Movement to Educate Women

In 2005 she founded the Women’s Breast & Heart Initiative (WBHI) to create outreach campaigns that give information and resources for prevention and early detection.  Based in Dade County, Florida, WBHI has focused on Southern Florida to educate on foot, knocking on close to 140,000 doors to bring breast cancer education right to women in their homes. 

But Andrea’s mission hasn’t stopped there. In 2013, the organization expanded its mission to also tackle heart disease, the number one killer of women in the US. Today, the group is able to offer comprehensive wellness campaigns that encourage healthier lifestyles through practical steps and preventative testing, resources many of these women would not have access to. 

“We focus on prevention and wellness. We’re not in disease mode. And although this is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we want people to understand that everyone has a role to play in prevention and wellness beyond October. The Women’s Breast & Heart Initiative literally changes and saves lives by providing at risk women with the resources necessary to beat the odds of breast cancer and heart disease. And what are those odds? One in eight women diagnosed with breast cancer over their lifetime. It is the second most common cancer in women. All women are at risk, unfortunately,” explains Andrea.

Andrea Ivory, Founder & Executive Director, Women’s Breast & Heart Initiative

One of Andrea’s goals is to reach younger women, many of whom ignore health concerns because of their young age. “Because of our poor habits, our lifestyles, things have changed. Women are being diagnosed with breast cancer at younger ages with much more aggressive breast cancers.  It was previously recommended to screen for hypertension in your 40s, now it is now recommended starting at age 18. That’s why we focus on college campuses.” Between lack of public knowledge of such risk factors and inequality in access to health care, Andrea is providing critical resources to this new generation. 

Beyond Breast Cancer

“When we ask people what’s the leading cause of death in women, is it breast cancer or heart disease, you would be surprised at the number of women who say, breast cancer. When in fact, sadly 40,000 women die every year from breast cancer but 400,000 women die every year from heart disease. Breast cancer and heart disease have shared risk factors and they have shared reduction strategies as well. So we married breast cancer with heart disease. And that’s how we became the Women’s Breast & Heart Initiative. We promote prevention and early detection strategies for breast cancer, heart disease, and when we provide screenings for women, not only do we get them mammograms but also screening for hypertension, glucose, and cholesterol, so that’s the beauty of prevention. It’s all about prevention.”

“We believe that any organization who’s not investing in the future, through the next generation is missing the mark. That’s what’s beautiful about what we do. We serve a specific population while actually investing in the next generation, and that impact is a ripple effect. Ultimately, the young men and women we’re educating today, are going to become parents.  And they will already know what they need to do to reduce their risks. So they’re going to be bringing up the next generation with this knowledge too. We are literally leaving a legacy. We may not get to see all the fruits of our labor. But there will be fruit.”

Breast Cancer Prevention

With prevention in mind, here are some lifestyle changes that can help reduce your risk for breast cancer and heart disease:

  • Keep Moving. Engage in physical activity for minutes each day. You can break it up 10  minutes at a time. Getting in a 60-minute workout daily is even better. But start small and just make sure each and every day you’re getting some physical activity.
  • Focus on adding more plant-based foods to your meals and reducing highly processed foods and meats.
  • Obviously as a health improvement, stopping smoking  reduces your risk factors for both diseases.
  • Focus on lowering your cholesterol and blood sugar levels through diet and exercise
  • Monitor your blood pressure and consult your doctor if  your blood pressure is above 120/80.  

You can find more information and resources by visiting the Women’s Breast and Heart Initiative website, (The Women’s & Breast & Heart Initiative) where you’ll find easy-to-follow downable charts on a variety of breast and heart topics including quitting smoking, healthier eating, and reducing your risk of disease. You can also find out how you can help by visiting their site.

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