Educating and Empowering: The VietLEAD Way

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When you speak to Tracy and Nancy Nyugen on the phone, you can’t help but smile. The two women have enthusiastic voices, chirping away cheerfully about who they are and what they do.

This comes in handy, for their voices are used to help make a difference.

Nancy is the Executive Director of VietLEAD, a Vietnamese community-based organization that focuses on inter-generational building through leadership development, community building, integration and education. Tracy is the Health Projects Director for the organization.

Specifically in this role, Tracy addresses barriers to timely breast cancer care by providing one-on-one patient navigation services. This is not a simple job. Tracy does everything from educating women on breast cancer to referring them to their local hospital for an annual screening mammogram and any additional follow-up appointments. She also assists the women she serves with applying for Medicare and Medicaid.

“In New Jersey, we serve Atlantic, Burlington, and Camden Counties,” said Tracy. “Annually, we refer 300–400 women to get screenings, and about 200 women follow through.”

Perhaps the most important part of Tracy’s job is serving as a translator for women who are not English or Spanish speaking.

“There aren’t as many resources for Asian women in the medical community in terms of translation,” said Tracy. “Here at VietLEAD, we aim to change that.”

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When asked how translation comes into play in her career, Tracy was eagerly waiting to share.

“I generally translate for the Asian populations — Vietnamese, Chinese, Cambodian. I will typically go to hospitals and translate for women when they go to the doctors, help them with paperwork, especially HIPAA forms, and help them understand what is occurring [during screenings],” said Tracy.

Tracy cites the most rewarding part of her job as increasing awareness. She added, “The increase of awareness in our community is important because the number of people that get mammograms overall decreases the number of breast cancer patients in the community.”

She also thanks Susan G. Komen Central and South Jersey for being one of their primary funders.

“They are one of our top assistants in terms of breast health education and screenings,” said Tracy.

“It makes a big difference that Komen CSNJ has been able to provide support and access to breast cancer mammograms to people in need. We are happy and thankful to Komen,” Nancy added.

Both women have experienced breast cancer in their lives. For Nancy, women in her family have been survivors of breast cancer. Tracy’s aunt had breast cancer, and now her mother has the disease.

When asked what advice they would give to women or families impacted by breast cancer, they both have their own meaningful words.

Tracy emphasized the importance of screenings. She added, “You need to get them every year. It doesn’t matter if you are feeling okay. There may be something you are missing. There is also a lack of knowledge. Get educated. Eat healthy, be active daily. You have to put your health first.”

Nancy, on the other hand, emphasized the importance of being together. “Please do not suffer alone. There is a lot of fear, and we have found because of cultural differences, a lot of shame. That is why we love that Komen CSNJ brings people together to celebrate life and thrive, to survive and continue living. People don’t have to be afraid alone.”

Joining together is an important thing.

Check out komencsnj.org to get more involved in our fight against breast cancer and learn more about the work that we do.

After all, there is more power in being together.

Olivia Bonevento is a featured guest blogger for Komen CSNJ. She lives at the Jersey Shore and is currently a student at a liberal arts college in Pennsylvania. Read more about Olivia on her personal blog — oliviabonevento.wordpress.com.

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