October 5, 2006, Vol. IV Issue 19
Meeting season is in full swing. I just looked at my calendar and counted up 13 speakers at 12 different events this month for a total of 22 presentations. Some events have multiple speakers and some speakers have multiple days or programs. It all adds up to thousands of women being educated, motivated and inspired to better health thanks to you and your efforts.
Some of these October events are Breast Cancer Awareness events. I just read an article yesterday about a community in Illinois where a hospital and the American Cancer Society have teamed up for a “Real Men Wear Pink” campaign. That’s right, even the men are joining the effort to get women to get their mammograms.
We are indeed fortunate in the United States to have our awareness and energy behind breast cancer – from early detection to research and ever-evolving treatments. Which raises the question – do we truly have any idea how fortunate we are? I had an awakening when I read about the women of Ghana last week. And rather than write about American events and speakers in this issue, I felt it was more important to share their story. We do a lot of grouching about healthcare in this country. This world view should put some things into perspective.
I also sat in on a nurses presentation last week by Deb Gauldin, RN. You’re accustomed to hearing my opinion, but in this issue, I’m going to share some thoughts from another source – my husband – who attended with me.
I’m sure I’m not the only woman who doesn’t exactly look forward to my annual mammogram. However, instead of dread, I now view it as simply routine (I’ve seen enough comedy routines and cartoons about “the squeeze” to tap into my sense of humor). I’ve also learned not to take the results for granted, always sending up a prayer of gratitude when the checkmark is in the normal box.
Frequent communications regarding breast cancer research and legislation come my way, so I am aware that our challenges with breast cancer in the United States are far from over, yet most of the news is very promising.
Shift to another world. I read an article last week via one of my google news alerts (see below) that really moved me. It was from the Times Herald-Record, published in Middletown, New York.
Reporter Heather L. Connors wrote about a remote village in Ghana, where women have walked several hours to wait with hundreds of others in line for breast exams being done by one white American woman, Penny Lynch.
Penny, mammography supervisor at Orange Regional Medical Center in Middletown, traveled to Ghana for a church conference this summer, where she lectured on women’s health. Then she spent the rest of her 15-day trip traveling to remote areas to screen women for breast cancer and teach them how to do self-examinations. She financed the trip herself, using her own vacation time.
Back in the states, Penny has already made breast cancer awareness her mission. She’s taught medical personnel how to do breast exams, lectured on the disease nationally and advocated for research money. So, why Ghana?
“If someone asks me to lend my expertise to a Third World country, I’m going to do it,” Penny says in the Herald-Record article. Ghana is a nation crippled by excessive debt and a scant number of health-care providers. “They have no health insurance, no healthcare system. They have nothing.”
Under very primitive conditions, Penny examined the women one by one at each site she visited. Skillfully, her fingers probed for suspicious formations, encountering unusual territory such as burns that have caused scarring.
Although Penny had read up on Ghana’s history and how breast cancer has affected its women and went prepared with $5,000 in donated supplies, she wasn’t prepared for the emotional side. When she found a lump the size of a golf ball in the breast of a 14-year old orphan, her heart sank. Although it may be benign, getting follow-up care will be a challenge. She had to plead with the village chief to see that she would be looked after.
Her colleague while she was there was Frank Ghartey, a Ghana-born molecular scientist who owns and operates the breast clinic Mammocare, and has spent the last ten years researching breast cancer. He took time away from the clinic to drive Penny around, assisting in breast exams and translating.
This is definitely breast cancer in another world. Women in Ghana get breast cancer earlier and in more aggressive forms than Caucasians. In fact, Frank is intrigued by a possible genetic link to Americans descended from slaves originally shipped to America from Ghana. It’s a world where their mammography machine, circa 1986, is woefully out-of-date. Film is developed manually. And mammograms are too expensive (at $35) for many Ghanaians. Few studies have been done. The death rate is high. Most cancers don’t respond to the drug Tamoxifen and can be resistant to chemotherapy. Awareness is very low. Screening sites are sparsely furnished. Poverty is everywhere.
I highly recommend you read the entire article with all the details.
Frank is tired of watching women die in their prime, and so he continues his research. Having only screened about 1,000 women, Penny plans to return next year.
The Times Herald-Record has set up a fund to help Penny raise the money to buy a modern mammography machine for Frank Ghartey and the women of Ghana. A used (but up-to-date) machine would cost about $40,000.
In support, I pledge $100 of every booking I make this month. I invite you to participate in any way that feels right to you.
If you want to participate as part of The Speak Well Being Group’s efforts, please make your check or money order payable to “Ghana: Woman to Woman” and mail to The Speak Well Being Group, 4261 Collins Way, Lake Oswego, OR 97035. I’ll report our results in November. Or, if you prefer to do it directly, send it to M&T Bank, 624 Route 211 East, Middletown, NY 10940, attention “Ghana: Woman to Woman.” Thank you very much. I know our efforts will be appreciated.
Closer to Home
Closer to home and on a lighter note, I took advantage of the opportunity to go to the beach a couple of weeks ago. Deb Gauldin, RN, was speaking at the Salishan Lodge at the coast, for the Oregon chapter of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetrics and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN). Now, as a former OB/GYN nurse, Deb was speaking to her tribe. “I haven’t talked to a crowd of just OB/GYN nurses in at least a year,” she said. “I got to use all my baby props, stories and songs.” And the nurses ate it up.
Now this wasn’t just my opinion. You see, my husband came along for the ride. I kept sneaking glances over at him. I could hardly believe how much he was enjoying himself. We were there for her opening keynote, (she also closed the conference). His comments: “She had everybody with her from the beginning. They really got who she was through both the brilliant things and the embarrassing things she shared.
“With that crowd, she could share observations about life itself coming and going, because what they all share is the experience of seeing life at birth – as well as death. It’s both fundamental and profound.
“She’s a great philosopher,” he continued, “because she can talk about the beginning and end of life, and laugh and cry amidst those observations. Those nurses were with her all the way. So was I, but they were recognized and honored, even as they laughed. It looked like the best thing that had happened to them in a long time.”
As usual, Deb was not afraid to poke fun at herself (and the nursing profession) whether it was in her stories or her humorous song lyrics. At a conference like this, laughter opens the creative side of the brain, so it is receptive to the information they will be receiving during the rest of the conference. And, people feel appreciated and valued when they’re treated to the morale-boosting benefits of natural endorphins.
Now is a good time to be booking speakers for nurses week in early May 2007. You can inquire about booking Deb Gauldin, RN on our website or give me a call at 503-699-5031.
Until next time, take care of yourself for your well being and those you love.