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Mammogram van must get rolling again.

Sunday, April 08, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times
by MARY MITCHELL Sun-Times Columnist

We believe mammograms can save lives, don't we? Then why are so many of us acting as if we have our doubts?

Elizabeth Edwards, wife of presidential aspirant John Edwards, is a clear example of this sad phenomenon. Last week, Edwards, a woman in her 50s, and the mother of two young children, appeared with her husband on the campaign trail and confessed to having failed to get a mammogram.

"I do not have to be in this situation," she told an audience in Davenport, Iowa. "I am responsible for putting myself, this man, my family and frankly, putting you all at risk, too, because I think you deserve the chance to vote for this man."

She didn't say how long she had gone without one. A year? Two years? Three?

Why do we put off test?

But Edwards was diagnosed with breast cancer nearly four years ago. The cancer went into remission after chemotherapy and radiation, but resurfaced and has spread to her ribs. It is incurable.

At the funeral of Illinois Lottery Superintendent Carolyn Adams on Thursday, Tracey Alston, a good friend of the deceased, told mourners that Adams had neglected to get a mammogram for 14 months when she discovered a large lump in her breast. Adams apparently had been so immersed in her new job as the superintendent of the Illinois Lottery that she just didn't get it done.

I could relate.

Although I normally get annual mammograms, last year I skipped. Adams' death at 44 reminded me how foolish that was. While there is debate over the role risk factors, race and heredity may play in determining who will get breast cancer, it has been pretty much accepted that early detection can increase the odds of surviving cancer.

That's the real point: to catch cancer before it can consume tissue and flesh, hopes and dreams.

But here's where the guilt should come in.

I have health insurance. I have a private doctor. I have the transportation to get to a mammogram screening facility. But there are a lot of poor and working-class women who not only have the same challenges I have when it comes to just getting this uncomfortable procedure done, they don't have the resources to make it happen.

And things are getting worse.

After being touted nationally as a model for breast cancer awareness, the Cook County Mobile Mammography Van last month ceased operation as a result of Cook County Board President Todd Stroger's budget cuts. Since 2003, John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital has received $2.3 million in awards from the Avon Foundation for breast cancer screening.

Serving those most likely to die

The Avon gift was to be used to bring the "most modern, high-quality breast oncology care to minority underserved women," the group most likely to die from breast cancer.

But funding for the mammography unit ran out.

On Thursday, Gov. Blagojevich announced that he was renaming the "Ticket for a Cure" the "Carolyn Adams Ticket For a Cure." The $2 lottery ticket was Adams' brainchild. Since January 2006, the game has raised $3.7 million and has given away $2 million for breast cancer research and awareness.

But if we really want to make a difference, some of that money should be used to put the mobile mammogram unit back on the road.

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