October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. An international campaign to increase awareness of the disease helps raise funds for breast cancer research, prevention and — advocates hope — an eventual cure. To capitalize on the attention paid to the disease each year during October, local hospitals and health organizations are offering a number of screenings, programs and support groups designed to spread a message of awareness, early detection and overall health.
“Education and knowledge are extremely powerful when it comes to health,” said Dr. Angela Keleher, the director of breast cancer services at Vassar Brothers Hospital in Poughkeepsie. “We encourage women to take proactive steps. Be aware that screenings and mammograms can save lives. It’s easy to do those things, and really help yourself.”
The statistics surrounding breast cancer are stark: every three minutes, a woman in the U.S. is diagnosed with breast cancer, and every 13 minutes, a woman dies from the disease.
But the news is not all bad. According to the American Cancer Society, 89 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago are still alive, and mammography can detect breast cancer an average of one to four years before a woman can feel a lump. That’s why it’s so important, said Keleher, to spread the word about regular screenings.
“It’s hard sometimes to get people to come in regularly [for most screenings],” Keleher noted. “Who wants to drink a gallon of liquid and then have a colonoscopy? But after you’ve been diagnosed or have a scare, you do it regularly. Screenings give you the peace of mind that everything’s OK, and they give you a far better chance of beating anything that’s discovered.”
According to a U.S. Preventive Services Task Force report in 2009, women should be screened every two years beginning at age 50. But many doctors say that women as young as 40 should be screened, especially if they have a risk of breast cancer in their family.
“There are often few warning signs, and unlike with things like smoking and lunch cancer and sun exposure and melanoma, there’s no definitive cause or danger to point women toward avoiding,” said Keleher. “It creates more fear, which is a big reason that people sometimes avoid getting a mammogram. But women should overcome that. Screenings are the best way to know that you’re truly healthy.”
Fear of screening?
Interested in getting a mammogram, but afraid the experience might be painful or intimidating? Keleher advises bringing a friend, and making a day out of the trip.
“I encourage women to bring a friend to their mammogram, then plan on getting lunch, going shopping or doing something fun afterward,” she said. “That way, you’re doing something good for yourself and a friend, and don’t dread the experience.”
An added bonus, said Keleher, is that you’re also encouraging a friend to get screened, and helping to raise awareness about the importance of screenings.
“Ask each other: Have you had your mammogram?” she said. “If not, make a plan to get screened.”
Vassar Brothers is a member of the Health Quest organization, whose member hospitals (Vassar, Northern Dutchess Hospital and Putnam Hospital Center) are offering breast screenings and events during the month. The Dyson Center for Cancer Care at Vassar Brothers Hospital is offering free breast cancer screenings on October 25 and 26, in collaboration with the Dutchess County American Cancer Society. Scheduled from 4 to 8 p.m., priority is being given to women without insurance. All are welcome, but registration is required.
The hospital’s hereditary cancer genetics program is also offered to assess patient risks for developing specific types of cancer, including breast cancer. Appointments are available at the Dyson Center in Poughkeepsie and Ulster Radiation Oncology Center in Kingston, and most major types of insurance are accepted. For an appointment, call 483-6641.
“With breast cancer, it’s a very prominent disease. It seems like everyone knows someone who’s had it,” said Keleher. “That makes it more effective for us to say, Be screened. It’s more real, and that’s why women should be aware of the dangers.”
At Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck, a nutrition and breast cancer risk modification lecture is scheduled for Thursday, November 4 at 6:30 p.m. Led by surgical oncologist Hank Schmidt, the lecture will focus on lifestyle modifications for patients at risk of breast cancer. The Dyson Center for Women’s Imaging regularly offers digital mammography, breast MRI, image-guided breast biopsy and other screening tools, and Women’s View, a grouping of wellness services for women, offers care in a number of disciplines. For more information about events at Northern Dutchess, call 871-3488.
For more information about any of the Health Quest programs, visit www.health-quest.org.
HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley offered its free breast cancer screenings on October 15. On Thursday, October 21 there will be a free seminar from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Fern Feldman Anolick Breast Center at Benedictine Hospital. “Breast Health: Here and Now” will feature a panel discussion about breast cancer services and overall health. Breast surgeons, breast patient navigators and a representative from the hospital’s oncology support program will be among the participants, said Murphy. Admission is free. A light dinner will be served.
For information about these programs, call 334-3182.
Other programs and events
At St. Francis Hospital on North Road in Poughkeepsie, the Eileen M. Hickey Cancer Center’s Breast Center offers a new free stress reduction program for anyone with breast cancer. “Rest, Relax and Refresh,” funded through The Miles of Hope Breast Cancer Foundation, offers massage, meditation, Reiki practices and reflexology to help breast cancer patients relieve stress.
Massage therapist Nancy Greenman, who provides the services, said that massage reduces stress, muscle tension and blood pressure, increases endorphin levels and range of motion, and improves blood circulation — all crucial components of cancer recovery.
The Japanese practice of Reiki is a natural, non-invasive, hands-on healing technique utilizing a series of hand placements that induce a state of relaxation and well-being. Reflexology uses points on both the hands and feet to aid in healing and revitalizing the body.
For more information or to schedule an appointment call 483-5997.
The hospital’s breast cancer support group meets regularly on the second Wednesday of each month from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Saint Francis Hospital Atrium Cancer Center conference room. The facilitator is Sharon Fleury, MSW. Newly diagnosed breast cancer patients and long-term breast cancer survivors are invited to the group, where participants share experiences, exchange thoughts and provide support to each other. Call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 to register.
St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital in Newburgh and Cornwall invites the public to attend a book lecture with the author of Breastless in the City, Cathy Bueti. Beuti is a breast-cancer survivor, and her book is a memoir in which she shares her experience as a young widow dating while undergoing cancer treatment. This lecture was originally schedule for September 30, but due to inclement weather the event was rescheduled for Monday, November 1. The lecture will start at 7 p.m. in the medical office pavilion at 21 Laurel Avenue, Cornwall.
Bueti is a nine-year breast cancer survivor, blogger and author. She is active in the young adult cancer community and has been a panel participant at various cancer conferences as well as a keynote speaker for events such as Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s Survivorship Day. Her story has been featured on CNN, LifetimeTV.com, USA Today, and Women’s World. Her blog is at cathybueti.com.
For more information call 568-2232 or email email@example.com.++