When a Ghanaian celebrity walked into a breast cancer screening last week in Ghana, two Purdue faculty members witnessed a performance of inspiring effort to increase awareness.
Sophie Lelièvre, an associate professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine, and Ellen Gruenbaum, department head of anthropology, returned from Ghana on Jan. 23 after a week-long visit to launch an international breast cancer project.
During their trip, the two attended a breast cancer screening at a local church run by Beatrice Wiafe-Abbai, president of Breast Cancer International and CEO of Peace and Love Hospital in Ghana.
In attendance was a surprise guest, according to Gruenbaum. Famous singer and actress Akosua Agyepong came to speak and sing, much to the excitement of about 80 women getting breast exams.
Because women in Ghana are often afraid to get checked at clinics, according to Lelièvre, Agyepong acts as a spokesperson to encourage women to get screened for breast cancer.
Lelièvre and Gruenbaum watched as Agyepong gave a premiere performance of an inspirational song she wrote about breast cancer.
Emotions were high as the room of women in the audience rose to their feet to dance along to Agyepong’s music.
“She decided to join the fight,” Wiafe-Abbai said. “We are planning to use that music in Breast Cancer International.”
Agyepong’s passion for the cause is mirrored by the feelings of Lelièvre and Gruenbaum.
The program they were launching, the International Breast Cancer and Nutrition Project, will bring together scientists from all areas of the world to focus research on prevention, said Lelièvre.
The project, with the support of the Purdue Global Policy Research Institute, began almost two years ago at Purdue University.
“We want to look at the causes of cancer,” she said. “Nutrition seems to be involved in controlling the risk of developing cancer.”
Part of what scientists will look at, according to Lelièvre, is the impact that cultural and environmental factors have on breast cancer.
“We’re going to look at the heart of what leads to breast cancer development,” Lelièvre said. “This type of research has been neglected for the last 40 years.”
Gruenbaum said Wiafe-Abbai thinks it’s also important to understand the social meanings of the disease and to provide better support for affected people.
“This trip made me realize what a terrible disease this can be if they don’t have early detection,” Gruenbaum said. “I feel like this is a country that has a lot of beauty and wealth and really good people. It’s a very promising place for this project.”