Dozens of female cancer survivors gather each year for dinner in Jessamine County for two reasons — to celebrate and to spread a message of hope.
This year’s dinner, which is annually hosted by the Jessamine County Health Department Cancer Coalition with support from the Jessamine County Cancer Buddies, was held March 27 in the Dougherty Dining Room at Asbury University.
“It’s an encouragement to see the same faces over and over again,” breast-cancer survivor Kathy Race said. “It lets you know that you are not alone; there is hope to get cured, and you can live a long life.”
Diagnosed in 2003, Race has attended every dinner since and said she will celebrate her ninth year as survivor in October with her husband and daughter. As a registered nurse in the oncology department at Central Baptist Hospital in Lexington, Race also said she uses her position to educate women every day, which is a main focus of the yearly get-togethers.
“Andrea Brown needs a great deal of credit for this; she sets it up every year,” she said. “Not only does she remember our names, she remembers our husbands’ names. She is involved, and she really cares.”
Brown is the health department’s cancer-coalition coordinator and health educator who spearheaded the dinner 11 years ago and brought the women together with the help of co-worker Shana Peterson and supporters Amy Steinkuhl of the Kentucky Cancer Program and Betty Doyle, chairwoman of the Jessamine County Cancer Buddies.
This year’s dinner welcomed surviving women of all ages and all different types of cancers along with supportive family members and boasted the largest turnout so far, Brown said.
“The biggest reason for tonight is to educate (the survivors) on the services we offer at the health department, to encourage them to go out and spread the word to other people,” Brown said. “We feel that word of mouth is the best form of advertising, and since they lived through cancer, a lot of people who may feel a lump in their breast or feel like they need a mammogram are more likely to lean on them, someone who has already been through that.”
The target group is women who are 40 years of age or older or have a family history of cancer, Brown said.
The health department is there to help those women not only with early detections but financially if needed through a program called Prevention Pays, which is funded by the Kentucky Breast Cancer Fund, Brown said.
The Jessamine coalition received a grant from this program to provide screenings and mammograms for those who may not be able to afford it, Brown said. Other funds come from the Kentucky Women’s Cancer Screening Program, and, when combined, help curb the cost of mammograms for low-income women.
“If they don’t have insurance, or they’re afraid they might not be able to pay, then we need to let them know that a lot of times it could end up being free or they may end up paying only a little bit,” she said. “It’s all based on a sliding scale fee; If they are a very low-income home, there is a very good chance they won’t have to pay for anything.”
Brown emphasized the importance of the screenings for all women and said she is available at the health department for those with questions or those in need of financial assistance.
There is another small perk of encouraging a screening and mammogram, Brown said.
“You can come to our health department and get a $10 gift certificate, and then if you refer someone else that meets the exact same criteria, you both get a $10 gift certificate,” she said. “And, if they refer someone, they will get a $10 gift card, and the process goes on and on.”