Photo by Jeylin White: Clayton County Senior Services employees, Tonya Douglas (left), office assistant, and Elaine Jackson, health and wellness coordinator, pose in front of the “Breast Cancer Memory Wall,” honoring women who have died from the disease, are now undergoing treatment, or are in remission.
It was six years ago, during a routine check with her doctor, that Tonya Douglas, an office assistance with Clayton County Senior Services, was told there was the possibility she could have breast cancer. A lump had been discovered in her breast.
Instead of letting fear overtake her, she said, her course of action was to get a mammogram, and, fortunately for her, the lump was not cancer.
“It’s kind of scary, when you’re in your early 30s, and the doctor comes and tells you to have a mammogram, when you’re told your whole life you don’t have to have [one] until you’re 40,” said Douglas.
A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. According to experts, screening tests — such as yearly mammograms — are given to people, who appear to be healthy and are not already suspected of having breast cancer. The purpose is to find breast cancer early, before any symptoms can develop, because the cancer usually is easier to treat in its early stages.
Douglas, who has only been working with Clayton County Senior Services for six months, said she has a passion for bringing awareness about the disease to others, especially through stressing the importance of yearly mammograms. She is not alone.
Her co-worker, Elaine Jackson, health and wellness coordinator for the Clayton County Senior Services Department, follows the same philosophy. “I can’t stress how important it is to get yearly checkups,” said Jackson.
Like Douglas, Jackson has had a brush with the disease. Her sister and best friend were diagnosed with breast cancer. While her sister, “thankfully,” is now breast-cancer free, her best friend was diagnosed a month ago and is now undergoing chemotherapy. “It has hit home for me, and it’s something I really want to bring awareness to,” she said, “because of [my sister and friend]. Getting a mammogram is how the cancer was found.”
Jackson added that she understands that some women may have some difficulty paying for a mammogram, because they may not have health insurance, but she said there’s no need to be discouraged, because there are local resources that help with the cost of the procedure.
For example, Jackson said, her organization works closely with Southern Regional Medical Center, in Riverdale, and the hospital is offering mammogram screenings at a reduced fee for patients who do not have health insurance. The offer is good until Oct. 31, she said.
Another resource, she said, is that Clayton County Senior Services holds an annual Sickness Prevention Achieved through Regional Collaboration, S.P.A.R.C., event. The event is a “one-stop shop for wellness,” where seniors, 55 and older, can get free health screenings. She said the next S.P.A.R.C., event will be Oct. 28, from 10 a.m., to 2 p.m., at the J. Charley Griswell Senior Center, in Jonesboro.
“It’s a big deal for us to make sure [women] understand they have to get a mammogram –– and to get them once a year,” Jackson said.
To help honor the women who are dealing with the disease, or those in remission, Douglas has a dedication wall, called the breast cancer memory wall, located in the foyer of the J. Charley Griswell Senior Center. It represents all who have died from the disease, are in remission, or are undergoing chemotherapy.
Jackson also has teamed up with the Life After Cancer Foundation, an organization that promotes breast cancer awareness and support services for women who are fighting the disease.
Through Jackson’s affiliation with the foundation, she has put together a program called the “Wig Initiative.” The purpose of the program is to collect new or gently-used wigs from the community to donate to women who have lost their hair from undergoing chemotherapy treatments, she said.
Last year, Jackson said, she collected 174 wigs, and this year, the goal is to collect 500.
For more information about the mammogram screenings offered at Southern Regional Medical Center, said Jackson, call (770) 909-2049.