Organization wants to recognize cancer survivors and raise awareness

It was their individual experiences with breast cancer that brought Lisa Ann Wheeler, Carolyn Byrd and Angela Prince together, but it was their shared desire to save lives that led them to create Reduce Your Risk.

For the past two years, their 501c3 has held monthly cancer walks and other events throughout the Augusta area aimed at networking resources, overcoming barriers to women’s health, supporting cancer survivors and to launch awareness campaigns that promote early detection.

Now they are looking to host an event in Jefferson County that recognizes cancer survivors and promotes awareness.

Byrd is a 13-year breast cancer survivor.

“Only one in five people with the type I had survived after five years,” she said.

Byrd made significant diet changes and began exploring other healthy lifestyle habits. She worked for a hospice agency where, she said, she saw people die from their eating habits.

“I told my husband that I no longer wanted to teach people how to die. I wanted to teach them how to live,” Byrd said. She was certified as a holistic wellness coach and became a breast cancer navigator, helping others overcome the obstacles, misinformation and fears that come with a cancer diagnosis. Prince was her first patient.

Prince was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer in 2015. An Augusta TV reporter recounted her battle with the disease and it was during this process that Prince learned that women of color are diagnosed disproportionately younger and die faster from the form of cancer. she had.

“We’re taught in school to look for lumps,” Prince said. “But there are 12 signs of breast cancer.”

She had seven of the other signs before a lump presented itself. Once the lump appeared, it grew rapidly.

“If I had known the other signs, I would have been checked sooner,” she said. Although she was very private about her diagnosis at first, she said she felt that if she could get a woman to have a mammogram who didn’t, then sharing her own journey would be worth it. sadness.

It was after her story aired that Byrd reached out to her, wanting to find a way to collaborate and educate other women. A few days after the story broke, Prince was also contacted by Lisa Ann Wheeler, a patient navigator for the breast and cervical cancer screening program through the Department of Public Health.

Wheeler’s program helps uninsured, underinsured, and low-income women by offering completely free annual exams, mammograms, Pap tests, and HPV screenings. Based in Aiken, Wheeler is also the lead advocate for the National Breast Cancer Coalition for South Carolina and volunteers to work with lawmakers on projects such as the Metastatic Breast Cancer Care Access Act. She lost her mother, Lorraine Davis Jackson, to metastatic breast cancer in 2017 and says the passion she has for the work she does is intensely personal.

Wheeler said she was moved by Prince’s story and told him she struggled to connect with rural women. She too wanted to work together to spread awareness. Together, Reduce Your Risk was born.

“There are so many excuses, and they’re not really excuses, they’re barriers,” Prince said. “You don’t have childcare. You cannot make it to your appointment. You don’t have insurance. We try to remove these barriers for women so they can help themselves.

One of the biggest obstacles is fear, Byrd said. There are so many ways to explain a symptom and not fix it. Education is a big part of what they do. They teach four pillars of healthy living; nutrition, exercise, stress management and sleep.

“It’s very devastating just to hear the word cancer,” Byrd said. “They are so anxious and scared that they are going to die. There is help, but many people don’t know there is.

The Wheeler program, which covers 13 Augusta-area counties including Jefferson and Glascock, regularly partners with Jefferson Hospital and schedules mobile mammography unit visits to areas that do not have medical facilities.

“A lot of times the insurance covers the screening mammogram, but let’s say they find something, and it might not be cancer, but they need you to come back and do a diagnostic mammogram,” said Wheeler. “A lot of times, high deductible insurance doesn’t cover that. It does not cover the biopsy and it does not cover the surgical consultation. Women are left in a ridiculous situation.

The Breast and Cervical Cancer Program covers all of this for eligible women.

“And if a woman gets cancer through the program, we’ll help her apply for Medicaid for Women’s Health, which will cover her breast cancer treatment,” she said. . “It is enormous.”

The program also offers HPV screenings and helps cover the cost of a colposcopy if they test positive for the virus and are at risk of developing uterine cancer.

Each month, Reduce Your Risk hosts walks in different CSRA communities to raise awareness and educate women about the risks to their health and what they can do to reduce those risks. On October 1, they plan to hold their second annual Focus On Me big community event, a health, wellness and community resource festival from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at May Park, located at 622 Fourth Street in Augusta. For more information, call 706-842-8807 or visit www.facebook.com/reduceyourriskinc.

Now Reduce Your Risk is also seeking area partners interested in hosting a resource event in Jefferson County that would also recognize cancer survivors and honor those whose battles are over. The event is tentatively scheduled for spring 2023.

Anyone interested in associating or connecting with local survivors is encouraged to contact Wheeler at [email protected] or by phone at 706-667-4255.

Aubrey L. Morgan