Two Breast Cancer Activists with UAMS Ties Are National “Yoplait Champions”
Two Breast Cancer Activists with UAMS Ties Are National “Yoplait Champions”

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LITTLE ROCK – Two breast cancer activists with ties to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) are among 25 people honored nationally by Yoplait, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and Self magazine for their work in breast cancer education.

Mattye Willis of Little Rock, a volunteer and former deputy director of the Witness Project in the Arkansas Cancer Research Center (ACRC) at UAMS, and Mimi San Pedro of Little Rock, vice-president of ContourMed, a client company of the business accelerator UAMS BioVentures, were named Yoplait Champions in a ceremony in New York City Sept. 24.

The group of 22 women and three men was selected for their strong commitment to the breast cancer cause, personal sacrifices on behalf of the cause, and impact on others’ lives and their communities. The Arkansas Susan G. Koman Foundation and Deborah Erwin, Ph.D., director of cancer education at ACRC, nominated Willis, who was first diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 35.

"It wasn’t anything you could fashionably admit to back then," Willis said. "That was 1974, back in the dark ages. People were hush-hush about it. Nobody gave me any information."

Twenty years later during a check-up, a "suspicious" mass that turned out to be cancer was found on Willis’ chest wall. After her second mastectomy, she immediately became active as a Witness Role Model in the Witness Project, a community-based cancer education program for rural and lower-income African-Americans. She also spent seven years as deputy director working on taking the Witness Project national.

"I always tell people I had been one-sided for 20 years, and the Lord gave me the opportunity to be even one more time," Willis said. "Nowadays women have all kinds of choices. What we have to do is get out there with as much information as we can so that women can make the choice that’s best for them."

"Mattye has a wonderful style that is endearing, but also direct," Erwin said. "She won’t put up with any excuse from anybody on why they can’t get a mammogram. She teaches assertiveness and empowerment in a very creative way."

San Pedro’s lumpectomy in 2000, followed by a year of radiation and chemotherapy treatments, led to a career change. She helped launch ContourMed on both the local and national levels. ContourMed manufactures and markets custom fitted, lightweight prosthetic devices for breast cancer survivors. The Yoplait Champions program "involved people from a wide range of cultural backgrounds, and I was very proud to be selected. It was humbling because the programs that the honorees have put together not only help breast cancer survivors, but also help their family members," San Pedro said.

A third member of the Yoplait Champions has a connection to UAMS. Georgia Ellis helped organize the first Witness Project affiliate outside Arkansas, in Wichita, Kansas. There are now 34 affiliates in 22 states.

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