PINK RIBBONS: WITH LOCAL RESOURCES, KENTUCKY’S BREAST CANCER PATIENTS AND SURVIVORS ARE NEVER ALONE.
October was first designated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month by the American Cancer Society in 1985, reflecting the growing prevalence of the disease and a need for funding and attention to support early detection, treatment and research for a cure. Today, there are some 3.8 million women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer in the country. An estimated 3,820 women in Kentucky will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, making it the second-most prevalent type of cancer in the state.
But while this month is about honoring those diagnosed with breast cancer and reflecting on their outstanding needs, it is also a time to reflect on the many resources that have been established for patients and those who want to support them — particularly here in Kentucky.
One such resource is Susan G. Komen, the largest breast cancer organization in the U.S., which operates regional initiatives.
“Breast cancer not only impacts the person going through it, but also everyone in their circle, as they tend to be the moms and primary caregivers in the family,” Sean Tuffnell, the director of communications for Susan G. Komen, told Tops. “Thanks to our supporters, we’re able to be there for people going through breast cancer through every step of their journey, from screening to survivorship. We help with access to screening, connect people to patient navigators, and provide financial assistance to help so that no one has to choose between taking care of their family and getting the care they need.”
The group typically hosts a Kentucky More Than Pink Walk every year, but due to COVID-19 concerns, this year’s edition will be held virtually on October 30. Kentuckians and those around the country can contact the Komen Breast Care Helpline (1-877-GO-KOMEN) to speak with a trained oncology social worker and find additional local resources.
And while Susan G. Komen makes a notable impact around the country and in Kentucky — helping 760 people in the state every week find additional information, by its own estimation — Tuffnell stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic is making this year’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month more critical than ever.
“About 44,000 women and men are expected to die this year alone from breast cancer,” Tuffnell said. “As tragic as that is, the annual number is likely to go up in a few short years due to the disruptions in screening and treatment that have occurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Dr. Emily Marcinkowski, a surgical oncologist with the UK Markey Cancer Center, echoed this concern about the recent reduction in breast cancer screenings.
“This year in October, we want to remind women that screening saves lives,” she said. “Screening mammography is the best way to detect breast cancer early. Especially now, we must let women know that it is safe to come and have a screening mammogram as it is the best defense we have against cancer.”
Oct. 18 IS NATIONAL MAMMOGRAPHY DAY!
If you’ve been putting off having a mammogram, this is your sign to make an appointment. Regular screenings can increase your chances of surviving by 97%.
In addition to such screenings, the Markey Center offers Kentuckians a breast center that emphasizes comprehensive and tailored care for diagnosed patients. It has an oncofertility program to preserve future fertility before treatment; supportive services like psych-oncology, nutritional counseling, and integrative medicine; and access to surgical techniques that hide scars and reconstruct breasts.
Still, the impact of receiving a breast cancer diagnosis is one that is difficult to prepare for.
“Let yourself feel scared,” Marcinkowski advised those who are diagnosed with breast cancer. “Let yourself be mad or sad or confused... Lean on your support people. If you do not have support people, we can help you find someone to talk to with our social work program.”
She also recommended that patients visit Grogan’s Healthcare Supply and Josephine’s Post Mastectomy, a pair of Lexington stores where they can find an array of wigs, post-mastectomy bras, and prosthetics.
With so many people affected by breast cancer, many in the Lexington area are interested in contributing their time or resources to supporting those they know who have been diagnosed. In addition to being a shoulder to lean on for patients, these volunteers can help encourage our community to get screenings, or contribute funds to organizations that help breast cancer patients navigate the financial landscape of treatment.
Melissa Karrer, the executive director of Kentucky CancerLink — a local grassroots organization that helps those in need get screenings or support after a diagnosis at little to no cost — explained that many of those who have been breast cancer patients themselves also want to give back to this community.
“Many want to give back after a diagnosis, that’s how I became involved with Kentucky CancerLink,” she said. “There are opportunities to get involved in community events and many nonprofits in our area. Giving back does not have to necessarily be related to breast cancer. Reach out to an organization to see how you can help. Sometimes just getting connected in the community is healing and leaving cancer in the rear-view mirror is the right thing to do.”
Those looking for an outlet to support local breast cancer victims specifically can consider Kentucky CancerLink, which accepts donations, seeks event hosts, and offers applications for volunteers.
“Our mission is to reduce barriers to screening, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer,” Karrer explained. “It’s a blessing to be able to serve and be a link to hope.”
In October, it’s especially important to remember the many victims of breast cancer and the unique challenges that they face. There is a wide array of resources in the Lexington area dedicated to serving them, staffed and supported by the family, friends, and neighbors of patients. But perhaps, of all the good work that can be done during Breast Cancer Awareness month, the most important is for those at risk to consult experts about their own statuses.
“As a breast cancer survivor, I think it’s an important reminder to get your annual mammogram,” Karrer said when asked about the importance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. “If you skipped your screening during COVID-19, it’s important to get back on track. Screening should start at age 40, unless you have a family history or have symptoms that are concerning. It’s important to talk to your medical provider about when screening is right for you.”