The West Philadelphia Senior Community Center (WPSCC) is a place where hundreds of older adults gather to socialize, stay active and support the unique needs all of its members. This includes offering programs targeting seniors’ health and well-being. Statistics show that one in seven women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and according to the National Cancer Institute, a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer increases as she gets older. Women at the WPSCC are no exception. In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the WPSCC hosted a symposium on Wednesday, October 16th, to educate members about the disease, celebrate their fellow survivors, and honor those members who have succumbed to breast cancer.
“We have people here who are smiling and living here,” said Helen Rayon, Health and Wellness Coordinator for the West Philadelphia Senior Community Center.
Donna Duncan and Priscilla Harvard-Jones of the Linda Creed Foundation kicked-off the event with a 30 minute presentation about breast cancer in older women. The Linda Creed Foundation was founded in 1987 by friends and family of Linda Creed Epstein, a Philadelphia songwriter who died at the age of 37, after waging a 10-year battle with breast cancer.
Linda Creed Foundation Executive Director Donna Duncan told the crowd of 70 people that just because breast cancer doesn’t run in your family, doesn’t mean you are not at risk. In fact, she said 90% of women who get breast cancer are the first person in their family to get it.
“The highest risk factor is just being a woman,” Duncan said. “All of us need to pay attention to our bodies.”
She emphasized eating well, exercising and watching your weight are key to staying healthy, but still don’t exempt you from getting breast cancer. Duncan said women must pay attention to their bodies and if they notice any changes that they see or feel in their breasts, go to the doctor immediately.
“You don’t know, unless you get checked,” she said.
Duncan added that the Linda Creed Foundation works with women who don’t have health insurance, or can’t afford to the insurance co-pay for a mammogram.
“We don’t want any woman not be able to get the test they need,” Duncan said.
Priscilla Harvard-Jones, also of the Linda Creed Foundation, and a 13-year breast cancer survivor talked about her personal story.
“Fear is your biggest enemy,” Harvard-Jones told the audience about the importance of going to the doctor should they notice any changes in their breasts.
Harvard-Jones explained how she felt a lump in her breast, but a mammogram a few days later showed nothing unusual. Her persistence paid off though, in that doctors were able to locate the tumor and remove it while the cancer was still in the beginning stages.
“Keep the faith,” she said. “If this does happen, after the shock wears off, believe in faith. But you must also see a doctor,” she added.
Following the Linda Creed Foundation presentation, four members of the WPSCC who are breast cancer survivors spoke about their experiences.
“I am blessed to be here,” Connie Key said.
Mary Ward-Jones, a ten year survivor talked about finding a lump in her lymph node, so it didn’t occur to her right away that it could be breast cancer. The tumor was removed and she underwent months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
“I was very lucky,” Ward-Jones said. “God was with me all the way.”
WPSCC member Helen Brown echoed sentiments of the speakers with the Linda Creed Foundation, encouraging members of the audience to be persistent with doctors and a vocal advocate for themselves.
The West Philadelphia Senior Community Center is strongly encouraging its female members to get mammograms and male members to have prostate exams. Helen Rayon, WPSCC Health and Wellness Coordinator told the audience that the Senior Center is now offering a special incentive for doing this too. If individuals have these exams before June 30, 2014 and fill out some paperwork at the center to show they had the exam, they will be rewarded with a surprise.
WPSCC is funded by the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging and the Pennsylvania Department of Aging and administered by Liberty Lutheran.