It's October, which in our world means one thing: Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I've noticed, though, that not all mammographers respond to October the same way. Some are excited for the opportunity to decorate, hold events and raise money for the cause. Others seem to view it as a month that requires significant survival skills. The same is true for people not in the business; some love the "pink world," others feel it's been done to death or that other types of cancers get overlooked in favor of the "popular cancer."
Whichever category you fall into, it's important to remember that we can and do make a difference in people's lives. With the situation in healthcare as it is, we are being asked to do more with less. It's easy to feel overwhelmed and lose sight of how important our job is.
So in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I'm sharing a story that is happening right now in our breast center. This is the stuff that always brings me back to center.
In 2011, our breast center and our hospital foundation teamed up to create Open Arms, a breast cancer outreach fund that would provide needed breast services to women in our community. As part of that effort, we decided that in 2012 we would host our first "40 for 40" program-40 free mammograms for women over 40 who had no insurance and no means to pay. What we didn't realize was that our hospital, our physicians, our staff and the community would respond as they have. People want to help. They absolutely love the idea of keeping their donations local and knowing that what we do directly affects women in our community. The daily surprise of finding another way someone added to the effort is nothing short of amazing.
First, our hospital and radiologist group both agreed to a reduced price for the screening mammography and interpretation. Our staff got involved; through creative efforts like bake sales, making and selling jewelry, note cards and scarves, they have added thousands of dollars to the fund. We held a Pink Art contest with a silent auction, and staff and the community entered 110 pieces of art. Local schools helped; the National Honor Society of a local high school made bracelets for us to sell, the Junior
Assembly Board teenagers baked for our bake sales, and many local children entered the Pink Art contest. Our community business owners are partnering with us for a "Paint the Town Pink" month-long effort, donating portions of proceeds from specialty items like pink smoothies, pink cupcakes and more.
Our local McDonald's restaurant is putting 15,000 tray liners with our information out in October and also hosted a Pink Day, where we received a portion of their lunch rush profits.
The response has been overwhelming. But possibly the most inspiring things are the little individual pieces of magic that come straight from the heart, like these:
A surgical center nurse, from another hospital, made and donated a blanket.
Our front desk staff all learned to crochet one stitch so that they could make scarves to sell--and they're beautiful!
When the same front desk staff was at the yarn store, a woman heard the story and offered to make scarves too.
Our volunteer, a breast cancer survivor herself, asked her husband's national chain of piano bars to create a pink drink and donate proceeds from it to our fund.
One of our "40 for 40" patients needed additional imaging. She hadn't seen her doctor in nine years, and the physician would not write an order for imaging without seeing the patient. The charge was going to be $185, and the patient called to cancel her testing with us, since she couldn't afford the doctor visit. Our family practice physician practice offered to see the patient, for free.
One of our regular patients, a recent breast cancer survivor, created wine charms to sell and hosted a wine-tasting event to raise money for Open Arms. She did this without our solicitation. In fact, we hadn't known she was doing it until the planning was well underway.
Every day someone tells me a new story. I know I'm revealing my advanced age to use this phrase, but I'm truly blown away by the outpouring of compassion. And I know it's really working, because several of our "40 for 40" patients have been tearful at their exam, not because they have to have the dreaded mammogram, but because they are able to.
Margaret Mead said it best, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
Go forth, mammographers, and keep changing the world.