Women encouraged to face their fears

October 03, 1997


Staff Writer

Given her family's history of cancer - particularly her mother's death at age 46 from breast cancer - Evelyn Duke admits she was reluctant to go to a doctor when she felt a lump in her own breast about three years ago.

"I was afraid they might tell me what it was," said Duke, 84, who finally faced her fear and was told the lump, about the size of a corn kernel, was not cancerous.

The Potomac Towers resident said she hopes other women, old and young, won't let their fears keep them from being vigilant about breast cancer exams.


That's why educational programs, such as the Hagerstown Housing Authority's annual Breast Cancer Awareness Tea, are so necessary, said Duke, who attended the first tea last year.

She was one of more than 40 women who were on hand for this year's event Thursday afternoon in the Potomac Towers community room.

The upbeat event drew a larger crowd than last year, when it was started in an effort to heighten residents' awareness of the importance of breast cancer screening and the availability of local resources, said Margie Weaver, of the Washington County Health Department.

Last year, however, they had some difficulty getting the point across to some women, who focused on the event's social side and ignored the educational aspect, Weaver said.

The tea's format was altered this year to ensure everyone who attended left armed with breast cancer basics, said Debbie Dellinger, a registered nurse assigned to the housing authority's senior services office.

There was still plenty of socializing at the cheerfully decorated tables, where the women were treated to cookies and punch by members of the Hagerstown Soroptimist Club and lively piano music by volunteer Violet Grove.

But everyone who socialized also attended an educational program presented by Linda Walla, supervisor of mammography at Washington County Hospital, and Y-Me of the Cumberland Valley volunteer Emma Lyles, a registered nurse and breast cancer survivor.

Participants were divided into groups for the short program, which included a video on breast self-examination and examples of mammography results.

There also were informational displays by the American Cancer Society, the John Marsh Cancer Center and the Washington County Health Department's Breast and Cervical Cancer Program.

Reaching women over 50 is important for several reasons, said Weaver, coordinator of the Breast and Cervical Cancer Program.

A woman's chance of getting breast cancer increases dramatically as she ages, Weaver said.

Weaver said those odds are:

  • 1 in 2,525 for a 30-year-old woman
  • 1 in 217 for a 40-year-old woman
  • 1 in 50 for a 50-year-old woman
  • 1 in 24 for a 60-year-old woman
  • 1 in 14 for a 70-year-old woman
  • 1 in 10 for an 80-year-old woman.

She said modesty imperils some older women, who feel uncomfortable about having their breasts examined or giving themselves breast exams, and thus avoid them.

"It's a hard concept for women who have been taught their breasts are private," Weaver said.

In other cases - like Evelyn Duke's - it's fear that they'll discover a malignant tumor, which they view as an automatic death sentence, she said.

To counter that kind of thinking, Weaver said they try to show the value of early detection by stressing increasing survivor rates.

"Another thing we want to stress is breast cancer is not a death sentence," she said.

Potomac Towers resident Rose Marie Marshall said she couldn't attend last year's tea because she was working.

She was glad she made it this year because she ended up learning more about breast cancer, a subject she thought she was fairly up on.

"I never knew before they showed that film that they can find things you can't even feel," said Marshall, 62, who said she had a benign tumor removed from her breast in 1994. "I'm always interested in things I can find out because I want to live as long a life as possible."

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