According to the American Cancer Society breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, except for skin cancers. Currently the average risk of a woman in the United States developing breast cancer sometime in her life is about 13 percent. Each year, about 276,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women and about 42,170 women will die of breast cancer.
Because breast cancer touches so many lives in America, October has been designated as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I interviewed two local organizations that provide services and resources to patients and their families in our local area: Breast Cancer Resource Center and American Cancer Society.
I was surprised to discover how the coronavirus pandemic has affected breast cancer service providers. Below you can also read about how COVID is impacting breast cancer services, the basic services these two wonderful organizations provide, special activities planned for October, ways they collaborate with other providers, and ways you can support them financially.
How has the COVID-19 virus affected your service delivery?
Breast Cancer Resource Center (BCRC).
“It’s been such a tough year for many, especially our immune suppressed clients hungry to connect and just receive support contact and be heard,” explained Silvana Kelly, Executive Director of BCRC. “It is so important for us to stay connected so the clients know they are not alone, and breast cancer isn’t a death sentence. We immediately pivoted to a virtual platform using Zoom as it is accessible from the comfort of home.”
Also, we are making wellness calls to check in on clients in treatment, and at least one staff person is at the center to answer calls, and or meet 1:1 employing masks and safe distancing, and/or arranging virtual meetings. All of it has been done with the clients’ safety and wellbeing in mind, and keeping staff safe as well. Breast cancer diagnosis doesn’t stop during a pandemic, so neither can we stop offering support and guidance, and above all else, Hope.
American Cancer Society (ACS).
COVID has affected the ability of the Society to meet face to face with our cancer patients. However, we are still able to help them through our 1.800.227.2345 Cancer Information Service anytime, 24/7. We can also help people via our cancer.org website 24/7, where patients or caregivers can look up resources or download information at their fingertips.
We have had to put our Road To Recovery program on hold for now, which is an amazing volunteer driver program, where volunteer drivers pick up cancer patients, drive them to treatment, and bring them home at no cost. However, we’re still looking for drivers to train so that when things open up, we can have volunteers ready to drive. For information on that, anyone can call 1.800.227.2345 anytime.
Please describe your basic services.
The BCRC has shifted to virtual support services, including support groups, and integrative care / wellness programs are now provided through the Zoom video platform. Many of our clients have adapted well to it and I am happy for the access and success. BCRC staff is also available by phone to arrange 1:1 support, and set-up Zoom support peer-counseling, return calls and do wellness check-in with the clients.
Also LIVE LEARN LUNCH – a series of virtual educational sessions are conducted every 1st & 3rd Friday of the month: October lineup includes 10/2 — The art of self-care as part of Pink Week, 10/9– Bone Health – Oncologist Dr. Taguchi and family physician Dr. Corral, and on 10/16- Imaging for high risk patients by Dr. Laurel Hansch of Santa Barbara Women’s Imaging Center.
American Cancer Society offers a variety of resources for breast cancer patients and their caregivers. 1) 1.800.227.2345 is the Cancer Information Service with live Cancer Information Specialists 24/7. They are always available and can send resources and info immediately to the caller. Plus the Cancer Information Specialists are expert listeners who can help direct the caller to help they didn’t think about, such as insurance information, clinical trials, or financial resources. 2) Reach To Recovery is the ACS program where breast cancer survivors mentor newly diagnosed women with breast cancer.
Reach volunteers are available anytime to talk with a new survivor. It’s so helpful to have someone to talk to who’s been through it before! Before COVID, those Reach volunteers often met in person with the patients, but now it’s over the phone. 3) cancer.org/breastcancer is a great resource with deep information on prevention, early detection, treatment, recovery, resources. Cancer.org is the American Cancer Society website that has every kind of cancer listed with information that can be forwarded or shared.
Do you have any special activities planned for October?
Every year we conduct PINK WEEK which provides a series of webinars for those in treatment, and survivors, and caregivers. See info above about PINK WEEK and/or visit: www.bcrcsb.org/pinkweek. This year PINK WEEK was 9/29 through 10/2.
Throughout October, ACS is working to educate women about the importance of early detection to fight breast cancer. In addition the Society is hosting local events throughout Southern California and the nation through our Making Strides Against Breast Cancer campaign. Traditionally, we have a large walk with thousands of people in Downtown Los Angeles, the Santa Monica Pier, Ventura, South Bay, Orange County, Inland Empire and beyond.
But because of COVID, to keep cancer patients and all participants safe, we’re doing more socially-distanced events. In Santa Monica and South Bay, ACS is hosting a Car Parade, with breast cancer survivors and supporters (people can stay in their cars). In Orange County, Inland Empire, Los Angeles, we’re hosting an awesome local scavenger hunt where survivors, caregivers, family and friends can drive (or participate virtually) to iconic places in their area, shoot selfies, upload online/post about it, and gain points for some fun competition and prizes. In Ventura, we’re hosting a Scavenger Hunt down at the harbor, which will be beautiful!
Which organizations do you collaborate or partner with?
We work with Organic Soup Kitchen, Food Bank, Santa Barbara Women’s Imaging Center, Michael Vogel Ph.D (support group for men), CeCe Jackson MFT (support group for women), Silvia Corral MD, Ridley-Tree Cancer Center, SB Neighborhood Clinics and SB Public Health, and ACS. Also we have a good handful of integrative care practitioners that are helping us with virtual services.
The American Cancer Society’s mission statement is to Save Lives, Celebrate Lives, and Lead the Fight for a World Without Cancer. The Society saves lives through our amazing cancer research and educational programs; ACS is the #1 nonprofit funder of cancer research, and has funded 49 scientists who’ve gone on to win the Nobel Prize. ACS celebrates lives by honoring cancer survivors at our Making Strides event, Relay For Life events, gala events and more throughout the year. We lead the fight for a world without cancer by partnering with other cancer organizations (nonprofits, hospitals, health systems, schools, community group) throughout the year, throughout the nation.
One example is that ACS has led the national Colorectal Cancer Roundtable for many years, gathering leading groups and medical systems together to work together to increase the number of people being screened for colorectal cancer, which is largely preventable. Over several years, we now have more people getting screened, which saves lives. For breast cancer, ACS had volunteers and staff many years ago (1980s) who led the fight to get legislation passed so that mammography would be a covered expense through medical insurance.
Now we take it for granted, but it took years of work. And the fight continues for health equity. The Society’s sister organization, ACS Cancer Action Network, leads the charge now on legislative matters such as access to care.
Do you have any special fundraisers coming up or anything you want to say to potential donors?
The Breast Cancer Resource Center of Santa Barbara fosters hope when it’s needed most, and right now our support services are more critical than ever. At this time when there is such a need for human connection, the BCRC is here to listen, empower, inspire as well as provide practical support, guidance and resources from diagnosis through survivorship.
The BCRC is continuing to provide our support services virtually and we need your help to ensure that we can continue to offer all of our essential services free of charge. Please make a donation (https://bcrcsb.maxgiving.com) and consider offering your support with any amount to the BCRC today.
We encourage women, men, families, friends, worksites, churches, friends and community organizations to join our Making Strides Against Breast Cancer events this October. To get details on your local event, visit MakingStridesWalk.org to view all the locations, or you can look them up by community, such as MakingStridesWalk.org/SantaMonica; MakingStridesWalk.org/LosAngeles; MakingStridesWalk.org/Ventura; MakingStridesWalk.org/OrangeCounty; MakingStridesWalk.org/Ventura; MakingStridesWalk.org/InlandEmpire, MakingStridesWalk.org/SouthBay. Or to chat with someone, call the Society anytime at 1.800.227.2345 for donations or questions.