Local organization seeks to boost breast cancer awareness, raise $1 million for U. of C. researcher

By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
Staff Writer

When Onistar Freelain felt a lump in her breast, out of fear, she shut down and shut out the idea of going to get it checked out. Once she got the courage to go to the doctor the mammogram determined that the lump was benign (non-cancerous). After further testing, though, Freelain found out the lump was in fact a cancerous tumor that was quickly spreading through her body.

“The mammogram missed my tumor three times,” said Freelain, whose grandmother died from cancer. “The mammogram did not see the lump I could feel. It caught another lump that was benign.”

It was during her ordeal in 2013 that she and her husband Rasul — they met while students at Kenwood Academy High School — created the Beyond A Mammogram organization. As a cancer survivor, Freelain now speaks to the community at schools and churches about going beyond the mammogram in terms of testing for cancer.

“Beyond A Mammogram is an organization that wants to keep this matter in the forefront of people’s minds,” Freelain said. “Those who are in the high-risk category have to think about more than just getting a mammogram they have to consider taking 3-D mammograms, ultra sounds and in extreme cases biopsies.”

Freelain said the organization has two missions: to help increase the conversations about breast cancer health for women, families and even men and to arm young people with knowledge at an early age so that they will do self checks, see a physician and ask their physicians the right questions.

“I want people to be their own best advocate,” Freelain said.

“So much research has been done and so many laws have been put in place to help survivors and families,” Freelain said. “For example insurance companies are now required to make one breast look like the other in the case of mastectomies.”

To bring even more awareness to this cause, Beyond A Mammogram is organizing a walk-a-thon. The event will start at 8 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 27. The participants will walk from 5200 S. Hyde Park Blvd. to 39th Street and back. The organization’s goal is to raise $1 million. All the proceeds will go to the breast cancer research of Dr. Olufunmilayo Olopade, a researcher at the University of Chicago. 

The U. of C. is working to develop cures for the most aggressive types of breast cancers that do not currently have treatments. Dr. Olopade is an expert in cancer risk assessment and individualized therapy for these forms of breast cancer.

“There was a treatment on the market for my type of tumor but if there wasn’t treatment I don’t know what I would have done,” Freelain said. “So we are helping to support Dr. Olopade’s groundbreaking research.”

Freelain said in 2013 she received treatment at Christ hospital but now Dr. Olopade is her oncologist.

“Her work and knowledge is exciting,” said Freelain about Dr. Olopade, who also does research in Nigeria.

The 10-member organization is seeking volunteers as well as participants for the walk-a-thon.

“We are expecting a large group of volunteers,” Freelain said. “We have our work cut out for us but we believe in it so we don’t mind rolling up our sleeves.”

The cost to sign up for the Beyond A Mammogram Walk-A-Thon is $35. To sign up for the event visit beyondamammogram.com.

d.phillips@hpherald.com