Friday, October 31, 2014

'CATS' means help for breast cancer battlers

Clara Currin and Janelle Williams are among the 2.8 million-plus breast cancer survivors that the American Cancer Society (ACS) counts in the United States. Locally, they are two living testaments to the effectiveness of CATS (Community Action Team of Shelby County), an outreach program of the ACS.
       “We’re trying to reduce the mortality rate of breast and cervical cancer. It’s (CATS) making a difference in our community,” said Dorothy Hall, a retired nurse from U.T. Bowld Hospital and a community health advisor (CHA).
       CATS is a coalition of community organizations and individuals trying to eliminate the high incidence and deaths of African-American women in Shelby County due to breast and cervical cancer. That mission is tasked to CHAs – lay volunteers trained to educate women on breast and cervical cancer awareness and access to screening, treatment and care. They advise, advocate, mentor, assist and refer women to appropriate resources.
“We’re trying to save women by encouraging them to get mammograms earlier,” said Currin, a CHA who shared her story and pitched preventive care to nearly 200 women attending Golden Gate Cathedral’s Annual Breast Cancer Survivor Brunch on Oct. 18th. Sixty-four of the women are cancer survivors.
       The church’s health ministry launched the brunch six years ago in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The purpose: to pay homage to women struggling with the disease. “We wanted to give back to the community and do something for the survivors in church,” said Anita Holloway, the health ministry coordinator.
       The brunch has become an educational tool to equip cancer survivors, and those currently receiving treatment, with the necessary resources that would help them survive the oft-times deadly disease, Holloway added.
       Of the 232, 670 new cases of invasive breast cancer and 62,570 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer, about 40,000 women will die. This year’s estimate for new breast cancer cases in Tennessee is 4,840; and 910 will die.
       The statistics are alarming and symptomatic of the serious threat to women, particularly African-American women, who are less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, but more likely to die from it. In fact, about 1 in 8 (12 percent) women will develop breast cancer during their lifetime.
       Surviving breast cancer has been a struggle for Currin and Williams. However, they’re not easily deterred by the dismal statistics. Why? “God is good!” Williams declared.

Clara Currin: 
‘You don’t want to stay
 in bed and give up’

       “It’s been a journey, but God has been so good,” said Clara Currin, recalling the exact date of her breast cancer diagnosis – June 10, 2005. It was the same day her mother, who died from uterine cancer, celebrated her birthday.
       Describing her experience as an arduous journey, Currin, a former college athlete, is determined to stay alive, even after the cancer metastasized to other parts of her body. Since her initial diagnosis, she has battled bone marrow cancer, cancer of the ovaries, and now cancer of the chest wall and liver.
Clara Currin encourages women at Golden Gate Cathedral's
Annual Breast Cancer Survivor Brunch on Oct. 18th to get their
mammogram and Pap smear screenings done. (Photos: Wiley Henry
       “I’m a four-time cancer survivor,” said Currin, whose latest cancer diagnosis came in July after returning from a trip to Hawaii. “That’s when I found out the cancer had moved to my chest wall and liver.”
       Currin is undergoing chemotherapy once again – eight treatments so far. “I have 60 percent reduction of cancer cells in my chest wall and 25 percent reduction of cancer cells in my liver,” she said. “That’s how you know chemo is working.”
       Having run track at U.T. Knoxville following her graduation from Booker T. Washington in 1969, Currin said the doctors explained that her survival is a result of how well she’s taken care of her body. “As a former athlete, I try to eat right and exercise.”
       Hair loss and the emotional challenges that come after a cancer diagnosis often exacerbate the problem. “The wigs are the least of my problems,” she said. “(But) the side-effects of chemo and medicines is worst than cancer sometimes.”
       Currin is being treated at The West Clinic and has to have an injection every 28 days to keep her bones strong. The cost: $5,000 an injection. “Once before I was getting two shots a month for $11,000,” she said.  
       Currin taught English for 30-plus years – 12 at Frayser High School; 23 at Northside High School. She coached girls track at both schools and also worked with student athletes during the summer months at the Shelby Metro Sports and Awareness Basketball Clinic.
       “You don’t want to stay in bed and give up,” said Currin, a divorcee who has a son and 6-year-old granddaughter.
       “I hope her generation will be free of cancer,” she said.

Janelle Williams:
 ‘A lot of people
 don’t make it’

The mass in Janelle Williams’ breast was enough to send her into an emotional tailspin, but then it ratcheted from fear to anger to depression after the mass was diagnosed as malignant.
       “I was mad at first with my doctors, because they told me it was a cyst and that I didn’t have anything to worry about,” she said.
Janelle Williams was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2010.
       Williams was diagnosed October 2010 and left the doctors’ office with the realization that the mass had to be removed. That same year she’d contemplated having a reduction mammoplasty (breast reduction surgery). “So I decided to have the reduction and mass removed at the same time,” she said.
       That year in December, right before Christmas, Williams began treatment at The West Clinic. “What a Christmas present,” she said.
       The treatment plan included eight rounds of chemotherapy, a mastectomy, 33 rounds of radiation, and then six more rounds of chemotherapy. She has been cancer-free for nearly four years now and doesn’t have to see a doctor, she said, until May 2015.
       “A lot of people don’t make it,” said Williams, who thought at the outset of her diagnosis that she wouldn’t be alive to see her nephews and nieces grow up. “I thought I would be missing out on family and holidays. That’s what came to my mind.”
       Williams is fortunate to be able to pay the hospital bill with her personal insurance, which a number of African-American women haven’t been able to afford according to CATS, which intercedes on their behalf.
       Following her treatment in 2012, Williams opted to retire from the Internal Revenue Service after 36 years.
       “I didn’t want to work all the way until God calls me home,” she said.

Michelle R. Shelton: Her ‘CATS’ story

The pastor at Golden Gate Cathedral, Bishop Edward Stephens Jr., had sermonized on occasion about the woman in the Bible who suffered 12 years with the issue of blood before Jesus Christ healed her.
       Michelle R. Shelton also had an issue of blood – before the doctors healed her.                  
       “I had been having bad cycles, fibroid tumors, for about seven years. Nobody knew I was hurting. I was losing a lot of blood and could barely stand up. I lost over 25 pounds. I was hemorrhaging and sick,” said Shelton.
The doctors healed Michelle Shelton of her seven-year malady.
       The problem was compounded by Shelton’s high blood pressure, which doctors had not been able to regulate for 15 years. “I was on 13 different medications,” said Shelton, who didn’t have insurance to pay for any sustained treatment, including the malady that was causing her to wrench in pain.
       She’d self-paid for a mammogram and Pap smear screening before, but “considering what surgery cost, I couldn’t afford it.” But that would change when Dorothy Hall, a member of the church, asked her about getting a mammogram and Pap smear screening for free through the CATS (Community Action Team of Shelby County) program.
       After a series of tests, the doctors discovered that Shelton had an enlarged uterus and a tumor on her adrenaline gland. “The gland was causing my blood pressure to be extremely high and my potassium to be low,” she said.
Shelton had a hysterectomy in March 2012, then a second surgery to have the tumor on her adrenaline gland removed. “I feel great now. My blood pressure is normal. I gained my weight back. And now I got more energy,” she said.
       “If it had not been for the program (CATS), I would still be sick,” said Shelton, the mother of one child and the grandmother of four.
       “I don’t think I would have made it,” she said.

       (For more information about the Community Action Team of Shelby County and its community health advisors, contact Bert Fayne at (901) 725-8629. African-American women, whom the program serves, may be eligible for free mammogram and Pap test screenings.)


No comments:

Post a Comment