A magazine for friends of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

Bridging the Color Divide


Clinical trials offer the most cutting-edge cancer care. A new initiative aims to ensure everyone has access to them.

For Rochelle Ives, the John Hope Settlement House in Providence symbolizes a lifelong connection with her community.

“My sisters and I used to go to John Hope daily,” the longtime Brown staff member says. “I just love this place, and even my kids, nieces, nephews, and my grandchildren went there.”

The facility houses a childcare center, classrooms, and two gymnasiums, and offers youth development programs throughout the year. The community mainstay took on an even deeper meaning for Ives, administrative program coordinator and executive assistant to the vice president of Dining Services, when she selected it as a backdrop to talk about her greatest struggle: her battle with breast cancer.

Her story is part of a new initiative, Color of Cancer, by Brown’s Legorreta Cancer Center. Ives and other cancer survivors are featured in a series of videos aimed at destigmatizing clinical trials for cancer treatment in communities of color.

“I wasn’t nervous until I started talking,” Ives says of making the video. “There was one time where I got choked up, but it got easier the more I talked.”

Assistant Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Sheldon L. Holder, MD, PhD, the cancer center’s associate director for diversity, equity, and inclusion, is leading Color of Cancer with funding from a Robert A. Winn Diversity in Clinical Trials Award. The two-year grant, which he received in 2021, focuses on training medical professionals with a commitment to increasing diversity in clinical trials.

“As cancer specialists, we believe that the best therapy is to be treated in a clinical trial,” Holder says. But a big challenge, he adds, is that people of color have disproportionately low representation in clinical trial populations. He used the Winn grant in a variety of ways to help improve participation, including creating the video series.

Holder also created a community advisory board to guide outreach that includes a range of Rhode Islanders, from nonprofit leaders to a police officer to a DJ. Candace Harper, executive director of the West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation in Providence and a member of the advisory committee for Brown’s Swearer Center, says joining the board was a natural extension of her everyday work.

“We are all about making sure to provide resources for our community, particularly for things that are concerned with social determinants of health,” Harper says. “‘Health and wellness’ is a big umbrella, and this is a good intersection of the work I do on a daily basis.”

The board noted stigmatization of cancer was a recurrent theme in communities of color, as many people may avoid talking about it—or sharing their diagnoses at all.

“When the board met, we really believed that what might be more effective than just education is developing relationships,” Holder says. “People are more likely to change their behavior if someone they have a relationship with tells them that they should do something, rather than just because it’s good for their health.”

The board eventually settled on creating a video campaign featuring candid interviews with locally recognizable faces. Ives, who connected with the project through Harper—her Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sister—was enthusiastic about participating. In her video, Ives shares the challenges of chemotherapy and of balancing her personal life with treatment, her hair loss, and more.

At first, Ives felt she needed to keep her struggles private, but in hindsight she realized how much she needed the support. Now cancer-free, she says she appreciates the initiative’s goal and how it can demonstrate to communities of color the value of having people with you throughout the journey.

“It’s OK to get tired, just don’t give up,” she says. “The important thing is to stay focused on getting well.”

Color of Cancer hosts regular Cancer Talk Cafés where community members can meet and talk with Legorreta Cancer Center clinicians.


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