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Survivors mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month

By Greg Gelpi

Nearly every family is touched by breast cancer, but there is hope, one survivor said.

"If you take eight women and line them up, one of them is going to develop breast cancer in her lifetime," said Shirley Freeman, a two-year survivor of breast cancer.

Freeman, a 53-year-old Ellenwood resident, said she wasn't surprised to discover she had breast cancer since the disease is so widespread among women.

"I was wondering when it was going to happen to me," Freeman said.

As an oncology nurse at Southern Regional Medical Center, she knew the importance of regular screenings and detected the cancer through one such self-examination. The most difficult part, though, was telling her family.

"The first time my daughter walked in and saw me on an IV," Freeman said, emotional as she also described the first time her family saw her without hair. "Watching your mom crumple in a chair and watching the look on her face is terrible. It's horrible."

She has worked as an oncology nurse for 12 years and said the experience of enduring and surviving breast cancer has enabled her to relate and share more with her patients,

"They have bravery you don't see in ordinary situations," Freeman said. "The worse the experience, the more the human spirit soars."

Providing an image of a vibrant productive breast cancer survivor leaves her patients "beaming," she said.

Breast cancer strikes everywhere, hitting the governor's family last week.

Gov. Sonny Perdue canceled scheduled appearances Friday as he spent time with first lady Mary Perdue, who underwent a lumpectomy that day after being diagnosed with the early stages of breast cancer earlier in the week.

The governor's office reported that the first lady recovered well from the outpatient procedure and has an "excellent" prognosis.

"It's devastating that first time," said Pat Jackson, a Southern Regional oncology nurse who has been in remission for two years. "Chemotherapy was the worst for me because I couldn't work."

She gained strength from her coworkers and her patients, and she was diagnosed in the same year as two coworkers.

She dreamt that she had a lump in her breast and discovered one while oversees on a mission trip. She credited her faith and early detection for her remission.

"Mammography proved to be very successful," Jackson said. "It's something that's very simple."

Southern Regional hopes more women will take that "simple" step to detect breast cancer.

With the state's largest pink ribbon draped across the front of its building, Southern Regional Medical Center wants to raise awareness of the disease. Southern Regional dedicated the 30-foot by 5-foot pink ribbon, while announcing advances and efforts by the hospital to fight breast cancer.

"I think the ribbon on the building demonstrates our commitment to the community," said Mary Kay Kiesling-Gardenier, Southern Regional vice president of operations. "I have been one of the fortunate ones. I have had two biopsies that came back negative."

Southern Regional has and continues to maintain its commitment to the Southern Crescent through its oncology services and research, she said.

Throughout the month, Southern Regional will hold free breast cancer events. From 7 to 8 tonight, there will be a self breast exam class in the hospital's education auditorium.

A Mall Walkers Meeting on "Nutrition and Breast Cancer" will be at 8 a.m. Oct. 12 in the Southlake Mall food court.

By appointment only, Southern Regional will offer free clinical breast exams from 10 a.m. to noon Oct. 16 in the educational auditorium.

A lunch and learn on cancer patients and fatigue will be from noon to 1 p.m. Oct. 20 in the educational auditorium.

Mammograms 101 will discuss the importance of receiving regular checkups and exams from 7 to 8 p.m. Oct. 26 in the Women's Life Center Terrace Conference Room of Southern Regional.

To register or for more information on the Southern Regional events, call (770) 541-1111.

Clayton College & State University is also observing Breast Cancer Awareness Month by providing free screenings.

Clayton State will have informational tables in the Student Center Cafeteria from noon to 3 p.m. today and noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Free breast screening will be available in the Nurse Managed Clinic (room 207 of the Student Center) from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. For more information, call (770) 960-2109.

"The good news is the mortality rate is on the decline across the United States and Clayton County," said Pam Ashman, community cancer control manager of the American Cancer Society.

Early prevention can help save lives and reduce suffering, Ashman said.

According to the American Cancer Society, 215,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and more than 40,000 will die this year from breast cancer. About two million women are living in America with breast cancer.

For more information on breast cancer visit the American Cancer Society at www.cancer.org or Southern Regional at www.southernregional.org/cancer.