Breast cancer initiative targets Naugatuck

NAUGATUCK — The Griffin Hospital Valley Breast Health Initiative will become more visible throughout Naugatuck in the coming months.

That is thanks to a grant from the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation that promotes screenings for breast cancer throughout the Naugatuck Valley.

The program, which is based out of Derby, has three goals it wants to achieve with this grant. The first goal is to provide outreach and education on breast cancer awareness throughout the entire Valley, with a focus on women in Naugatuck and Shelton.

“Right now we have one outreach nurse at the Naugatuck Farmers’ Market,” Griffin Hospital Valley Parish Nurse Program Director Daun Barrett said. “She’s going to organizations, churches, shopping centers, anywhere women congregate.”

Barrett explained that the outreach nurse will give women information on getting a mammography and answer any questions they might have.

“She’s talking to women, she has educational material. The first thing she will do is ask if they had mammogram in the past year. Then she will help them set up an appointment,” Barrett said.

This is especially important in Naugatuck where, according to the Komen Connecticut Community Profile, the breast cancer mortality rate is higher than the state average. This fact is also true about Shelton.

According to the Komen Foundation, the average mortality for breast cancer in Connecticut is 23 deaths per 10,000 women. The foundation did not provide the statistics about Naugatuck.

The second goal is to assist women with scheduling mammograms and tracking progress to ensure that appointments are kept.

“The big thing is to determine have they had a mammogram,” Barrett said. “We’re trying to overcome the barriers. It is usually a fear factor, or time gets away from you, or just being complacent, figuring you don’t need it.”

Barrett wants every woman to know that they should get regular screenings for breast cancer.

“We can not prevent breast cancer, but caught early enough we can have a good outcome,” Barrett said.

She feels Naugatuck has a higher mortality rate than the rest of the state because not enough women are taking the first step of getting screened for cancer.

“If women don’t get diagnosed they can’t be successfully treated. For successful treatment and a lower mortality rate we have to get women in for regular mammographies,” Barrett said.

Naugatuck resident Sue Ascencao, 50, discovered her breast cancer early and has been cancer free for about 13 years. Naugatuck has a breast cancer mortality rate that is higher than the state average, prompting Griffin Hospital in Derby to focus on the borough as part of its new Valley Breast Health Initiative. –RA ARCHIVE

Naugatuck resident Susan Ascencao can attest to the importance of women getting a regular mammography. She had never had a mammogram when she noticed at the age of 36 that her left breast was growing larger.

Ascencao knew enough about breast cancer to immediately suspect it. She still waited two months to see a doctor, reasoning there was no history of breast cancer in her family.

“In the back of my mind, I was scared to death,” said Ascencao, who is now 50.

At the urging of a friend, Ascencao eventually underwent testing at Griffin Hospital, where doctors found a small tumor in the early stages of development. After chemotherapy, radiation, and a mastectomy, she has been cancer free for about 13 years.

“There’s not a day that I don’t get up and thank God to see this day,” Ascencao said.

Even though Naugatuck’s mortality rate is higher than the state average, Barrett is pleased with the progress that the program has made since the first Community Health Profile was created in the mid-1990s.

“We’ve made huge inroads in the fact that whole Valley had a huge problem with high mortality rates from breast cancer,” Barrett said.

She explained that much of the work the program has done came from that original profile.

The program’s third goal is to provide affordable or free mammographies to women in the area. The Komen Foundation’s grant helps to that extent by allowing the program to offer 50 free mammographies to women in the area.

Even after those 50 mammographies are performed, the program will not turn women away.

“It doesn’t matter if you are number 51 or 150, we will be able to help you,” Barrett said. “We have access to other financial means and other avenues to get free mammographies.”

Barrett said the outreach nurse is also conducting an anonymous survey and encouraged all women to take it.

“The survey will help us understand why Shelton and Naugatuck have fallen out of the state average,” Barrett said.

The Republican American contributed to this article.

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