NEW HYDE PARK, NY – A new training program at LIJ Medical Center recently helped women in Queens become breast health ambassadors, advocates trained to increase awareness in their communities about life-saving breast cancer screenings.
The free program, held in late September, attracted about 25 women; some were breast cancer survivors and others had a family history of breast cancer. All were united in their mission to encourage women in their neighborhoods to get a mammogram, dispelling any myths or fears about the diagnostic test.
Speakers included Leroy Comrie, a New York City councilman representing Jamaica, Queens; Loretta Lawrence, MD, chief of breast imaging services at the North Shore-LIJ Health System, who discussed the importance of early detection and breast cancer screening and gave an overview about the latest imaging technology available for mammograms, including 3-D imaging; Jill Rabin, MD, co-chief of the division of ambulatory care and women’s health programs-Pcap Services at the North Shore-LIJ Health System; and head of urogynecology at LIJ; and Maxine Mahlstadt, a breast cancer survivor and mother of three boys, who shared her inspirational story. Kaitlin Doyle, LIJ’s women’s health coordinator, and Ann Stephen’s, the program’s outreach coordinator, led an educational workshop for the community advocates.
“Early detection and mammograms save lives,” Dr. Lawrence said. In addressing participants, she said, “You are the people who can make a difference in encouraging other women to get a mammogram.”
According to the American Cancer Society, a woman in the United States has a 12 percent lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer.
Ms. Mahlstadt, 45, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, said she never missed her yearly mammogram, but became concerned when she felt hardness in one breast, which turned out to be calcium build-up. To follow up, her doctors performed other imaging tests, and discovered a tumor deep within her breast that could not be felt. Ms. Mahlstadt said that she had no family history of breast cancer, and urged program participants “to always check yourself and communicate with your doctor and do research.”
Treated at the North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute, she underwent two outpatient surgeries, 18 months of chemotherapy, a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. Ms. Mahlstad’s message for participants: “Be strong.”
“By recruiting committed, personally-invested ambassadors in the community, we can potentially increase the detection rate, enhance prevention and lower the death rate of breast cancer,” Dr. Rabin said. “LIJ is committed to reducing any barriers for women to get mammograms.”
LIJ Medical Center’s Ambulatory Care Unit offers a variety of free cancer screenings, including mammograms, thanks to funding from the New York State Cancer Services Program of Queens and Nassau County through a grant from the state Department of Health. The program also receives funding from The Greater NYC Affiliate of Susan G. Komen®. At LIJ, free mammograms are available to women between the ages of 50 and 64 who are uninsured.