NAUGATUCK — Mayor Robert Mezzo said he was shocked to hear last year that the borough had a higher breast cancer mortality rate than the state average. The reason is uncertain, but patients are being diagnosed at later stages after the cancer has gained strength.
So Mezzo began working with Griffin Hospital in Derby on the Valley Breast Health Initiative, which aims to raise breast cancer awareness and schedule women for mammograms.
The hospital’s Women and Heart Disease Committee will honor Mezzo on Thursday with the Community Caring Heart Award, given to someone who works to advance general health in the community.
“Being chosen is extremely humbling to me, given the work that so many people have done to further this cause,” Mezzo said.
Griffin Hospital received a grant from Susan G. Komen for the Cure to target the borough and Shelton, which also has a breast cancer mortality rate higher than the state average of 23 deaths per 100,000 women.
The hospital’s initiative includes surveys to determine factors that might be causing high cancer rates.
“We really want to focus on getting the word out and education, because we can’t prevent breast cancer at this point but we can intervene early enough to get a higher survival rate,” said Daun Barrett, the hospital’s director of community outreach and co-chairwoman of the Women and Heart Disease Committee.
Barrett said she quickly met with Mezzo to formulate a strategic plan to implement the initiative in the borough. Mezzo provided a five-page spreadsheet with contact information for borough groups that might help promote the cause, such as the Naugatuck Cultural Council and the United Way of Naugatuck and Beacon Falls.
“The saddest part of any of it is knowing that a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, somebody could have been saved had they been aware of a problem and got the treatment that was needed to save that family from undue pain and suffering,” Mezzo said.
The initiative began last summer with two nurses who stationed themselves at borough locations where women typically shop, worship and eat, Barrett said. They held three formal discussions in the borough as well, Barrett said.
Since then, 30 borough women with private insurance have come to Griffin for mammograms and seven more were sent to other area hospitals, Barrett said. The Komen institute has funded mammograms for 25 low-income women who qualified from the borough and Shelton, Barrett said. The hospital has made contact with and given materials to more than 500 borough women, Barrett said.
“We found places to go to and things to do that we would have never found had it not been for the collaborative effort,” Barrett said.
The Valley Women’s Health Initiative, which has worked for 13 years to raise awareness of early detection throughout the area, is also receiving the Community Caring Heart Award on Thursday.