By Marilyn Tinnin
Breast Cancer in Mississippi—Baptist Health Systems Changing the Status Quo
Although Mississippi’s statistics on breast cancer occurrences fall below the national average, our state’s death rates due to breast cancer are higher than the national average. In fact, Mississippi leads the entire nation in that alarming statistic. Baptist Health Systems and its philanthropic arm, Baptist Health Foundation, are committed to changing that.
When the Center for Breast Health opened at Baptist for Women in 2011, physicians from all over the region began asking for help with patients who could not afford mammograms. There was a clear need for an impactful program to assist the uninsured or under-insured with mammograms, but that was just the beginning. What about follow-up care for those who needed surgery or treatment? The need was huge, but the heart of the staff at Baptist was bigger still.
Baptist began by doing extensive homework on Mississippi women. What factors contributed to the large mortality rates and what could be done, in a practical way, to immediately bring those numbers down? They took into account these facts*:
- The best way to detect breast cancer is mammography, and early diagnosis brings a much improved survival rate. 51% of women aged 40 to 64 in Mississippi have not had a screening mammogram within the past year.
- 118,000+ between the ages of 35-64 are without health insurance. Uninsured women report decreased mammography utilization.
- Lower education levels generally mean fewer mammograms. Mississippi’s 2013 high school graduation rate was only 75.5%
- 22.7% of households in Mississippi are below the poverty level.
(*For more information, please visit www.fundforthegirls.com)
The Baptist Health Systems mission as a Christian healing ministry and a light in the community turned the desire to help into a passionate calling. Along with its radiology partners, Baptist Medical Center cut mammogram fees to cost for eligible patients and Baptist Health Foundation extended monetary assistance to cover the rest.
And so began the initiative called fund for the girls. Since 2012, through this program, Baptist has assisted 807 patients ranging from 35 to 65 years old providing 721 mammograms, 211 ultrasounds, and 43 biopsies. In order to sustain the fund and continue to provide life-saving care to more Mississippians, Baptist Health Foundation intends to raise $250,000 annually.
The success stories fuel the determination of those connected with the program. Numbers are one thing, but when those numbers become individuals with faces, names, families, and stories, the joy of being part of such an effort surpasses any sacrifice or dollar amount.
Nurse Adrienne Russell is the Breast Health Navigator in Baptist’s Center for Breast Health. She guides patients through the process from diagnosis to the end of treatment. As you would expect, walking through cancer with someone who genuinely cares is an intensely personal process and the relationship between Adrienne and her patients grows into a lasting friendship. She shares joyous tears with her patients when they receive good news and holds their hand when there is bad news.
Eloise Lewis is one of those fund for the girls recipients Adrienne grew to love as a forever friend. She is a 48-year-old mother of three grown girls who, through initial screening services provided by the program, was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in November 2012. Eloise had a double mastectomy and eight rounds of chemotherapy to address circumstances she may not have ever been aware of without the assistance of fund for the girls.
She is quick to count her blessings and says, “I would never have made it through any of this without the good people God put in my life at Baptist.” She is a woman of strong faith who also says, “I learned to look at my breast cancer as something of a blessing—it was something God trusted me with and He provided everything I needed to get through it.” And Eloise never misses a chance to tell others about God’s provision in her time of need.
Whit Hughes, President of the Baptist Health Foundation, says, “Breast cancer takes a heavy emotional toll on families and most of us have been impacted, on some level, by breast cancer. Early detection is the best way to beat it and fund for the girls is doing a lot to lift folks above financial anxiety and put them in position to receive the screenings and other services they need.
Be on the lookout for creative gatherings and events planned in coming months! Some are educational. Some are health-related, and some are just fun. Mississippi Christian Living will keep you posted in the months ahead!
Give Your 18 is an annual program within fund for the girls. Launched on April 23 of this year, it was quite intentional that the big kickoff falls just 18 days before Mother’s Day. This is a great way to honor a loved one whose life has been affected by breast cancer. It’s also a great opportunity for your circle of friends, your Sunday school class, or your office to do something meaningful and impactful.
For every ten individuals or organizations donating $18, for a total of $180, a woman in need will receive a mammogram. Inviting nine friends and family members to join you in this initiative will make a positive difference because 100% of every dollar will directly impact patient care.
When making an $18 contribution to fund for the girls, donations may be given in honor of, or in memory of, any person the donor chooses. After the donation is made, donors will receive a card that may be given to the woman they wish to honor.
Celebrate Mom and help save a life! Give Your 18 at www.fundforthegirls.com/giveyour18 or by calling 601.968.1489.