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Taking the Harshness
Out of Mammograms

By Jeanne Sager
JEFFERSONVILLE — April 27, 2004 – Forget Tupperware. As for Stampin’ Up, well, if you must.
The newest thing on the “party scene”?
Mammogram parties.
Yes, mammograms, the second line of defense against breast cancer (second only to self-exams).
Liz Bucar has been putting off her mammogram for two years.
She’s a nurse – she should know better.
She’s also 51, a smoker, and has a history of breast cancer on her mother’s side of the family – she should be going for the test every year.
But there’s always been something “better to do.”
“Every other time, something came up,” the Jeffersonville resident said. “I thought, ‘I can always get my mammogram, how many more basketball games am I going to get to watch my son play, how many more baseball games?’
“How many more times am I going to be able to just sit at home alone?”
Bucar finally got one on Monday, surrounded by friends.
It was her doing that brought the Catskill Regional Medical Center (CRMC) HealthMobile to Jeffersonville Monday morning.
After arriving home late Monday from Sunday’s pro-abortion women’s march on Washington, D.C., Bucar was still willing to open her heart and her home to more than a dozen women to sit and swap stories and prepare for their mammograms.
She had what she dubbed the county’s first “mammogram party.”
She might have saved some lives - or at least brought some awareness.
Bucar sent out an e-mail at 9 p.m. one Wednesday evening looking to see if there was any interest in the community for her idea.
By 11 p.m., she’d gotten six positive responses. By 10 the next morning, she had three more.
She called CRMC and promised there would be a significant number of women at her house on April 26. Could they come?
It was smooth sailing from there. The hospital’s mobile van coordinator, George Osmun, was eager and willing to help, and Nurse Practitioner Kathy O’Mara was excited about the idea.
“They’re keeping their focus on getting as many people through those doors as possible,” Bucar said.
“And Kathy is wonderful – she’s one of the most caring, loving healthcare providers I’ve ever known,” she added.
O’Mara is the nurse practitioner who has been running the van since August. She can give women a breast exam, a mammogram, a pap smear and a cursory physical in about half an hour.
If you don’t have a prescription, she can write one for the test. If you don’t have insurance and you’re over 40, she can get you into the Healthy Women Partnership program so your mammogram and pap smear are free and so is any follow-up work.
Mammograms are necessary, O’Mara said.
They save lives.
They might not catch all cancers, but they can detect breast cancer up to two years before a woman can feel a lump during her own self exam, she said.
O’Mara has seen eight women since August who are living today because the mammogram on the van caught their breast cancer. She just saw two more women who are going to have their lumps biopsied because O’Mara saw something suspicious.
And the women at Bucar’s house on Monday were just as “at risk” as any O’Mara has seen.
One Callicoon resident said she doesn’t “believe in mammograms.”
“It just seems that smashing my breast isn’t going to save me,” she said.
But her friends urged her to come to Bucar’s on Monday, and she went.
The 67-year-old, who asked that her name be withheld, hasn’t had a mammogram since 1996. She’s supposed to be getting one yearly.
She’s lost 40 pounds in three years, and her doctors don’t know why. She feels healthy, but something must be amiss.
So she figured she’d try the mammogram.
But she wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t for Bucar’s “party.”
“I thought this type of atmosphere would relax me,” she said.
Lynn Elfert, who said she will be “entering [her] 70th year next week,” hasn’t always been good about getting her mammograms.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) suggests women get a baseline mammogram sometime between 35 and 40 unless family history suggests the test is needed earlier.
After age 40, the ACS suggests women get one every year.
Elfert had her first one at 60. She hasn’t had one in the past three years.
At times, the problem has been health insurance – Elfert didn’t have any, and she didn’t know about the Healthy Women Partnership.
She’s also been put off by the inconvenience, and the pain.
A mammogram essentially “smashes” a woman’s breast between two plates so a picture can be taken.
But if the only way to test for testicular cancer was to “smash a man’s balls between two plates,” men wouldn’t get tested either, she said.
Another of Bucar’s friends, who also requested anonymity, said it’s been eight years since her last mammogram.
She’s 53 and way overdue.
“It’s one of those things I just don’t like having done, so it’s at the bottom of my list,” she said.
She attended the party on Monday because of the atmosphere Bucar was able to create. There was good food and music and a masseuse giving massages upstairs.
Instead of waiting in a doctor’s office reading a dog-eared copy of Time published two years ago, the women were lounging on Bucar’s couch and picking at the goodies on her dining room table.
“I love this idea of having women together,” said one woman.
“At least here we get to wait comfortably and share stories,” said Denise, a 35-year-old who was nervously awaiting her first-ever mammogram.
Denise didn’t know what to expect. She’d heard horror stories about the pain, the cold plates.
But she said she, like everyone else, knows people who have been affected by breast caner.
The CRMC van is taking a big step in making the prevention part more available and more people aware, she said.
Bucar encourages anyone who is interested to follow her lead.
It’s a problem everywhere, she said, all across Sullivan County.
“These women are bright, self-aware,” she said. “They are active in their community, they know better!
“But there’s always the underlying feeling that ‘it’s not going to be me’,” Bucar said. “We believe what we want to believe.”
But breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer in women, the second leading cause of death in women.
O’Mara’s statistics show that 40,000 women will die this year alone from the disease.
Bucar hopes that can change – if women start getting their mammograms, it can be caught and children won’t grow up without their moms.
The health van, which also offers basic lab tests to the general public, can be spotted throughout the county.
But organizations are welcome to do what Bucar did Monday and arrange for the van to come to a location near them – whether they have a party or just call a group of folks to sign up for appointments throughout the day.
For more information, call CRMC at 794-3300, ext. 2848. For an up-to-date recording of the van’s location and days, dial extension 2929.

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