Local programs bring hope for breast cancer victims

Every October is dedicated to breast cancer awareness. The color pink mixes in with the traditional colors of fall such as red, orange and yellow. Clothes and storefronts alike often sport the little pink ribbon that means they will support research for breast cancer. Even sports teams get into the spirit and swap some of their gear from traditional team colors to don pink.

But, why should breast cancer awareness be limited to one month out of the year? According to the American Cancer Society, from 2004-2008, the breast cancer mortality rate was higher in Jackson County than in both the state and the country, and these deaths did not happen only in October.

Women in Jackson County are not getting their screenings. Some are afraid of what news they may receive; others are afraid of the unknown, said Community Health Advisor Manager Carolyne Moses. Whatever the reason, the hesitancy to get screened places the county’s breast cancer mortality rate 4 percent above the country’s. However, Moses is here to help that number go down.

She oversees other community health advisors in Jackson, Haywood and Swain counties. These advisors make it their mission to keep local women informed. While the advisors are also prepared to discuss other cancers, they specialize in breast cancer. The advisors go into the community with a resource guide and answer questions any woman might have. They also try to tear down the many barriers that keep women from getting their physicals and mammograms. For example, if a woman needs transportation, the advisor will point them to resources available in the community that can help her.

“I’m a cancer survivor…When I first heard those words, ‘Carolyne, you have cancer,’ [my] world came crashing down. One of the first things that comes to your mind is where am I going to go, what am I going to do. A lot of people just don’t know. We’re going out there, getting the word out about what we have in this community,” said Moses.

The advisors spend two days in training, learning everything from what cancer is to the stages of readiness. After that, they attend a monthly meeting where the advisors speak with partners. Community partners know what resources are available to those diagnosed with breast cancer and help to steer community members in the right direction. Partners include the Jackson County Health Department and Wellspring Family Practice, to name a few. The advisors also go to health fairs and around the community, stressing the importance of getting screened and the resources available to help the community out.

One such resource dedicated to getting women tested is the North Carolina Breast and Cervical Cancer Center Program. Debbie Hage, breast and cervical cancer coordinator, overseas the program, located in the Jackson County Health Department.

Both men and women are able to take advantage of the program. Low income and/or uninsured community members are able to get a full physical done for $35. A mammogram can be scheduled at the hospital for free.

“It’s free and when it’s free like that, it ordinarily will bring in a lot of women that couldn’t afford it,” said Hage.

Hage pointed out that they had 180 mammograms in the past fiscal year, three of which detected breast cancer. Once a patient has been diagnosed, they go on Breast and Cervical Cancer Medicaid, which will take care of BCCCP patients seeking treatments.

“We’re all about health and wellness prevention,” said Hage.

For now, breast cancer remains a deadly force in Jackson County. With Moses and her team trying to get the word out about what resources, such as Hage’s program, are available, there is hope that women will set their fears aside and get tested.

Training to become a community health advisor will be held Aug. 17 and 24. For more information, contact Moses at 828-586-8035 or carolynemoses@cancer.org.

For more information on the BCCCP program, contact Hage at debbiehage@jacksonnc.org or 828-293-5174.