Michele Murphy: column

In the two minutes it takes to read this column, a woman somewhere in America will be diagnosed with breast cancer. More than 250,000 women will be diagnosed this year and over her lifetime, one in eight will get breast cancer, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. More than 40,500 will die this year.

While far too many women and their families and friends suffer, there are bright spots in the ongoing battle to fight this disease. First and foremost are the 3.3 million American women who are breast cancer survivors.

Part of the reason more women survive today is due to the determined efforts of organizations and doctors as well as legions of girlfriends, moms, daughters and sisters pushing one another to get regular mammograms. Even better, husbands, dads, brothers and guy friends are getting past their embarrassment and encouraging the women they care about to get screened. We need to keep pushing because early detection is a big factor in effective treatment and survival.

While the frequency is far lower, men get breast cancer, too. Even though chances are one in a thousand, the mortality rate for men is much higher primarily due to lack of awareness that a lump could be breast cancer. As a result, diagnosis and treatment is unnecessarily delayed.

Medical advances in mammography screening, more effective, customized treatment options, advances in reconstructive surgery and a wealth of support services ranging from support groups to exercise and nutrition regimes, services providing wigs, breast prosthesis and bras or financial assistance are focused on alleviating some stress so that patients can focus on their highest priority - their health.

Lorain County has a solid service array to diagnose, treat and support those with breast cancer.

Mercy Regional Medical Center, Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals offer free mammograms at several locations across the county for women meeting age and income eligibility requirements. A simple phone call can get the ball rolling.

Mercy's Center for Body, Mind and Spirit provides services free to anyone with cancer. Two social workers help cancer patients with transportation to treatment or enrollment in a host of therapies including expressive therapy like writing, journaling or book club; energy therapy, mediation, comfort touch and support groups. Resource Coordinator Wendy Langenderfer told me they focus on providing clients with emotional and spiritual support while fighting the physical impacts of cancer. She emphasized services are available to anyone with cancer not just those receiving their treatment at Mercy. More than 18,000 have been helped since the program began in 2002. Langenderfer said they have a list of businesses or organizations that provide wigs, some free of charge, as well as prosthesis and bras.

Stacey Rusher, administrator for the Nakon Foundation in Avon, believes one reason women hesitate to get screenings is because they fear what might come next and how they pay for treatment and monthly expenses. That is why Nakon provides financial assistance to breast cancer patients. The 15-year old organization was founded by Matt Nakon whose wife, Karen, died from breast cancer. They provide grants to help cover basic living expenses - mortgages, rent, insurance, car payments, utilities.

Rusher said the foundation has helped more than 800 families and awarded more than $1 million. She said they believe a woman should not have to choose between medication and keeping her home, given its importance as a safe place to rest and recuperate.

The Gathering Place provides free services to Lorain County cancer patients from their offices in Westlake. They have an extensive calendar of events that includes support groups, yoga and other exercise and guided meditation along with workshops for caregivers, children and teens whose family member has cancer. They also provide other services including free wigs and makeup consultation.

Susan G. Komen Foundation serves low income, underinsured and uninsured men and women with breast cancer across the country, including Lorain County. Their annual Race for the Cure is the world’s largest and most successful fundraising and education event for breast cancer. One of its lasting impressions is seeing the sea of pink t-shirts and caps that literally swarm the streets during this event. Funds raised locally remain here to provide screening, diagnostic, education and survivor support services. The remaining 25% supports research to find a cure, according to Executive Director Sean Shacklett.

Komen maintains a busy year-round calendar, especially during October. Their activities are listed on their website. Of note, they team with the Cleveland Cavaliers for Pink Night on Oct. 24.

However, it could be the most important date is one that will get no publicity but pay big dividends. That is the day you make sure the women you care about make - and keep - an appointment for a breast cancer screening. I've yet to meet anyone working in this field who would not shout from the rooftops if you put them out of business as a result of finding a cure. Meanwhile, let's swell those ranks of survivors.

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