, Port Arthur, Texas


October 8, 2012

Putting on the Pink at Louis Manor Apartments

PORT ARTHUR — Wednesdays in October are a bustle of pink ribbons and iron-on decals at Joe Louis Manor Apartments on the West Side of Port Arthur.

Almost two dozen women gathered last week, as they plan to do every week during breast cancer awareness month, in the community room of the subsidized housing complex “on the other side of the tracks.” Cafeteria-style tables in the room were softened with pink tablecloths. Pink carnation centerpieces breathed a fluffy festive air into the decor between the institutional beige on the walls and the floor. Posters featuring job skills and life skills splashed spots of color at eye level along three sides of the room.

The women seemed comfortable in this place, where they worked together putting decals with slogans like “Think Pink” or “Put Your Breast Foot Forward” on pink or white T-shirts. Some who seemed experienced with the decals coached others as they made their shirts. “Let it cool good, now.” “Don’t peel it too fast.” Brows furrowed with concentration as the backing was gently pulled away to reveal the decoration below. Then pursed lips blew away the reaming heat so the shirt could be held up for the approval of those standing nearby.

Tonya Gray, resident services coordinator for the complex, was an obvious instigator, getting one group of women started on decals then showing another the rolls of pink ribbon and hot glue to make the breast cancer symbols to pin on their sleeves.

“At a Resident Council meeting we got on the subject of women’s issues,” she said. “A lot of the older ladies talked about bouts with cancer. Since a majority of the residents are women, it just made sense,” Gray said about the Wednesday breast cancer awareness gatherings.

After working on the crafts projects for about an hour, it was time for the main event of the day, the mini walk-a-thon around the neighborhood. Gray decided to lead her charges around the perimeter of Washington Elementary — named after Booker T. not George — one of Port Arthur ISD’s newly built modern schools.

First it was out to Joe Louis Drive for photos on the street in the newly decorated T-shirts. Then the troupe set off to hike the roads around the school. A few drivers in the sparse traffic on the sunny Wednesday morning gave thumbs up signs to the walkers. Energized and with a message of awareness for the community, cheers of “Think Pink” were shouted through the neighborhood. On the second leg of the trek an impromptu marching cadence broke out: “I don’t know what you’ve been told, but breast cancer has got to go.” That was good for a few giggles from the walkers.

After circling the school the marchers once again stopped for photos, this time glistening from the exertion of the walk. They lined up for the photo, raised their hands high, jumped and shouted “Think Pink” instead of cheese. The digital results showed happy faces, like they knew they had been part of something important, raising community awareness about breast cancer.

Aside from skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. In 2008, the most recent year for which numbers are available, 210,203 women in the U.S. were diagnosed with breast cancer. That is about equal to all the number of people in Port Arthur, Port Neches, Groves, Nederland, and Beaumont. White women have the highest incidence rate of getting cancer, but black women have the highest mortality rate. Perhaps the most startling statistic is that one in eight women in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetime. That’s a startling statistic when you think about it. If you are standing in line with eight women at the store the odds are one of them will develop breast cancer. It touches nearly every family, wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, yet researchers have to fight for funding. The National Cancer Institute reports that its budget has been relatively flat at approximately $4.9 billion per year for the past six years. I’ve often wondered what we would be willing to spend if it were a terrorist that threatened one out of every eight women in the U.S.

Those statistics say that of the 23 women and girls in that final photo, three are likely to develop breast cancer. But because of the awareness program and the good time putting the pink on at this one subsidized housing complex on the West Side of Port Arthur, those women have been exposed to information that could save their life. “Hopefully they will learn about testing and know they should get tested,” Coordinator Tonya Gray said after the walk. That is what Think Pink is all about.

Roger Cowles is editor of The Port Arthur News. Contact him at

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