Lending support from PennWest California: Sheleta Camarda-Webb (left), Darla Timbo, Azi Block, Liz Gruber, Marta McClintock-Comeaux and Monica Cwynar.

It was early 2023, and, for Dr. Azadeh "Azi" Block, the resolution was: Take better care of myself.

As the busy social work professor, wife and mom of three boys describes it, “We went on a no-kid vacation in December 2022. I came back from that thinking of other ways I could prioritize myself.”

They included losing 20 pounds, a physical change that proved life-changing, and life-giving, during a regular mammogram.

“They found tumors, which were hiding before,” Block said. The March 1 diagnosis was invasive lobular breast cancer. A mastectomy and rounds of chemotherapy and radiation have followed.

For Block, the prognosis is good and the professional and personal support has been solid. “But I’m a social worker and researcher at heart,” she said, “And when I went for treatment, it was a very white, middle-class-to-wealthy experience. I didn’t see a person of color in any waiting rooms.”

According to a report from the American Cancer Society, while incidence rates for breast cancer are slightly higher for white women, death rates are highest among Black women,exceeding those in white women by 40%.

Dr. Louise Nicholson (left) and Dr. Azadeh Block at the benefit walk organized by Block.

Block went on what she describes as a “deep dive” into these statistics and the complex reasons behind them. Soon, she connected with Ubuntu Pittsburgh, an organization that provides a community-based, trained companion to assist Black female cancer patients and their families.

“A big part is that women get the same diagnosis and treatment plan, but Black women have different outcomes because of other x factors that impact their ability to stay with the treatment plan,” Block said.“I wanted to support the work that Ubuntu does, which is a doula-style program where a woman comes alongside the patient to offer support and ask the questions they might not know to ask.”

Block organized a Nature Walk on Sept. 17 at the Frick Environmental Center in Pittsburgh. Proceeds from the family fun walk and two-mile walk/run will benefit Ubuntu Pittsburgh and Pink Slayer Boutique, a cancer advocacy group that provides support group meet-ups, patient navigation services, educational programs and supplies for women affected by cancer.

“I’m a doer,” Block said. “My goal is to raise $5,000 this year, but maybe one day we’ll raise $50,000. Effective programs are out there. We just have to fund them.”

PennWest colleagues Louise Nicholson (biology), Nancy Carlino (communication sciences and disorders), Sheri Boyle (social work),Marta McClintock Comeaux (social work), Monica Cwynar (social work), Chris Wydra (criminal justice), Bev Ross (criminal justice), Mathilda Spencer (criminal justice), Darla Timbo (psychology), Liz Gruber (counselor education), Sheleta Camarda-Webb (DEI),and Rhonda Gifford (career center) attended, contributed funds, volunteered or made baskets for the silent auction.

“There is a concept in social work called ‘interest convergence ’It’s the idea that my liberation and my outcomes are wrapped up in your outcomes. We rise together. I can’t heal without your healing,” she said.