The breast cancer survivor on a mission to save lives one house at a time

Breast cancer survivor Andrea Ivory is on a mission to educate Florida communities about the disease, one door at a time.

Breast cancer survivor Andrea Ivory is on a mission to educate Florida communities about the disease, one door at a time.

I love this story from the CNN heroes series about breast cancer survivor, Andrea Ivory, who is on a mission to save lives one house at a time. Ivory formed the Florida Breast Health Initiative group to educate women about breast cancer, and she has a unique way of doing so.

Every weekend in the spring and fall, she and her volunteers — who include college students, senior citizens and suburban moms, all wearing matching T-shirts — fan out across low-income communities in southern Florida, educating women about breast health.

They especially seek out uninsured women age 35 and older, who statistics show are twice as likely to be diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer, and thus more likely to die from the disease.

For Ivory, comparing this work to a battle isn’t overblown.

“The only thing that we have to fight this disease and lower the mortality rate is early detection,” she says. “We are the troops on the front lines.”

Since 2006, Ivory has helped provide more than 500 mammograms to eligible women.

Ivory herself had always been diligent about getting annual mammograms, but when the breast cancer diagnosis came in 2004, she took it in stride.

“I just knew that it was for a higher purpose,” she recalls.

Ivory says that purpose became clear during her cancer treatment. Reflecting on how lucky she was to have health insurance and to have gotten annual mammograms, she realized that thousands of women without health care were likely falling through the cracks and putting themselves at risk.

“Those women don’t even have a fighting chance,” she says. “The mission became reach[ing] those women.”

Ivory started FBHI to do just that. Her mantra: “Early detection is the best protection.”

The operation runs like clockwork. The first three Saturdays of each month are devoted to outreach — distributing educational materials and signing up women for free mammograms. She and her volunteers have visited nearly 18,000 homes.

“I love knocking on doors,” Ivory says with a smile. “I like to think of us as little pixies spreading breast cancer awareness.”

On the last Saturday of each month, a large mobile mammography van from a partner hospital rolls into the neighborhood, bringing screening technology directly to women who need it.

As they line up around the van, the excitement is palpable. Since many have never had a mammogram, Ivory and her team try to make the experience fun — providing refreshments, smiles and support.

One mammogram recipient said the “convenience factor” of the free screenings made the offer too easy to refuse.

“Ultimately this is the reason we do the work that we do,” says Ivory, “because we want to screen women who would not ordinarily have [the] opportunity.”

 Video Watch Ivory and her army in action »