Meet Ruby and Pearl, two lovable, grandmotherly African-American ladies who have recently learned that a combination of monthly breast self-exams, regular mammograms and an annual clinical exam can reduce their risk of suffering from breast cancer. Now they’re on a mission: to spread the word about the importance of early detection and screening to other black women, a population that has the highest breast cancer mortality rates of all racial and ethnic groups. All the two friends need is a little bit of financial assistance to help them take their show on the road.

“Ruby and Pearl” are the fictional heroines of Ruby and Pearl: Two Jewels on a Journey, an innovative patient education resource designed to guide African-American women “[down] the road to learning better breast health.” Developed by The Delta Project for Rural Health Care Professionals, Ruby and Pearl is a picture booklet that uses large-format photos, easy-to-read text and an entertaining, humorous style to explain why breast exams and mammograms can save women’s lives. According to the federal Office on Women’s Health, 52% of African-American women over 40 have not had a mammogram in the past two years.

First introduced at last year’s Oncology Nursing Society Dissemination Colloquium , the Ruby and Pearl project is the result of National Cancer Institute-funded research to determine the most effective way to deliver breast cancer prevention information to black women in the Mississippi Delta region, many of whom have low literacy levels. According to the project’s leader, Ann Coleman, RN, PhD, AOCN, of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Nursing, the findings revealed that the target audience responded best to materials that featured humor, religious themes, food imagery and photos of “real women.”

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The booklet tells the story of Ruby and Pearl’s journey to breast health awareness in a comic strip-inspired format that incorporates these themes. Pearl tells Ruby that the early-detection trio of self-exams, mammography and clinical exams is “like looking for a raisin in a three-layer cake.” Together the two friends examine their breasts, visit their doctor and get mammograms. (“This [machine] is COLD!” Pearl exclaims.) When they find out their test results are normal, they respond with a joyful shout of “AMEN!”

The 22-page spiral-bound booklet is intended for use in the offices of doctors, nurse practitioners and other primary health care providers, as well as in community health clinics. The idea is for women to flip through the book while sitting in the waiting room and then discuss it with their provider. The Ruby and Pearl project also includes an accompanying Breast Self Examination is Like Looking for a Raisin in a 3-Layer Cake pamphlet that can be given to patients as a takeaway. Bristol-Myers Squibb recently provided funding to support the publication and distribution of the pamphlet nationwide.

The Delta Project is now seeking a similar sponsorship to fund production of the Ruby and Pearl: Two Jewels on a Journey booklet. Organizations interested in helping this worthwhile minority health initiative become a reality can contact Dr. Coleman at UAMS College of Nursing, 100 Plaza West, Suite 280, 415 N. McKinley, Little Rock, AR 72205, telephone (501) 661-7902, fax (501) 296-1765, email [email protected].

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