Fight on to defeat breast cancer

Community Health Center launches Franklin County awareness campaign

GREENFIELD — It has been 16 years since a coworker at the Community Health Center of Franklin County suggested to Sharleen Moffatt that she go in for a mammogram.

Moffatt, a nurse for over 40 years, was not expecting the news she received a month later: a positive biopsy for breast cancer.

“I didn’t know where to start,” said Moffatt in the Greenfield Community College dining commons Thursday night. It was the kick-off event for the Community Health Center of Franklin County’s “Crucial Catch” breast cancer awareness campaign — funded by a $50,000 grant from the New England Patriots, in partnership with the American Cancer Society.

Stunned by the news of her cancer and unsure what to do, Moffatt called the American Cancer Society and was provided with information and resources — which helped her make the decision to have a mastectomy.

And then, in the weeks and months following the surgery, she was approached by American Cancer Society’s “Reach to Recovery” support program. Although at first reluctant to participate, she began to attend support group sessions.

A few years later, she became a volunteer for the program that she said she is “forever indebted to” — a role she continues today.

Although Moffatt has become an advocate for cancer awareness and screening, she said she will never understand people who say that cancer “was the best thing that ever happened to (them).”

“If I never heard those words, it would have been just fine for me,” she said. “It changes your direction, (but) you learn to cope. You learn to rely on your friends and family.”

Raising awareness
to encourage testing

Franklin County has a 31.1 percent breast cancer mortality rate, 8.2 percent above the state average, according to the American Cancer Society.

The society has said that early detection is key to breast cancer survival and encourages women to undergo annual screening. Cancer starts in the breast but, if left undetected and untreated, can spread quickly throughout the body.

Franklin County’s breast cancer screening rate is 61.1 percent, 11.1 percent lower than the state average.

Speakers at Thursday’s kick-off event said a number of factors — including fear, financial concern, lack of transportation or a general unawareness about breast cancer — may prevent women from getting tested.

In an attempt to combat that trend, the health center will carry out an awareness campaign over the next nine months throughout Franklin County and the North Quabbin Area.

The health center hopes to reach 400 women through the campaign — everyone from teenagers to the elderly.

An outreach team, which will include a health center provider and a nurse educator, will visit schools, fitness centers and other public areas throughout the region, said Flora Sadri, a medical director at the health center and organizer of the campaign.

During these outreach sessions — which are still being scheduled, but will be posted on over the next few weeks — staff will be able to conduct on-site, private screening in a mobile center.

They will also be able to provide information on how to self-test for breast cancer — through handouts like informational “shower cards,” as well as on-site education using breast models. Women will be able to put on a vest and learn how and where to check for bumps — early signs of cancer.

“Coming to this event could be the best event of your life,” said Sadri. “An early catch ... could save your life.”

Two employees of Baystate Franklin Medical Center — Sheri Thayer and Gail Verheyen — talked Thursday about the hospital’s radiology department. They said that screening can be done at the hospital in an efficient and unobtrusive manner.

And although advances have been made in technology and treatment, breast cancer mortality is still not as low today as those in health care hoped it would be 10 years ago, Moffatt said.

“We have a long way to go ... there’s no magic pill out there that’s going to make all of this go away,” she said.

Instead, the problem can only be solved by increasing awareness of breast cancer and the need for testing — through campaigns like “Crucial Catch” and by simple word-of-mouth.

“If all of us speak up and everyone of us in this room tells one other person ... to get in for screening, to look for early detection, then I really think that’s the answer to this,” she said.

The health center received a $50,000 check from the Patriots during a pre-game ceremony at Gillette Stadium last Sunday. Patriots CEO Robert Kraft presented the check to a group which included Moffatt, Sadri and two other breast cancer survivors: Anne Flagg and Sue Dziekonski.

Every October, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the NFL raises money for breast cancer research, awareness, support and treatment.

For more information on the health center’s campaign, go to:

Chris Shores can be reached at:
or 413-772-0261 ext. 264

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