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Spreading the word about the best care for breast cancer


By Catherine Pritchard

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

So when a local couple discussed holding an educational forum about breast health, they took that into consideration – and decided to hold their event at another time.

“Breast cancer awareness isn’t just in October,” explained Dr. Bruce Distell of Valley Radiology. “Issues of breast health are 24/7/365.”

A forum indeed developed out of that seminal conversation between Distell and his wife Sally, a former nurse. Its first incarnation was held in February 2016. A second forum followed last April. This year will mark the third annual Breast Cancer Education Forum. It’s set for April 12th at the Cape Fear Botanical Garden, 5-8 p.m., and organizers say it will be educational, light-hearted and exciting.

The focus will be on empowering patients and their loved ones through the breast cancer journey, from diagnosis through treatment, reconstruction and beyond, Sally Distell said.

Several cancer specialists will speak, including Dr. Elizabeth Sawyer, a surgeon who specializes in breast cancer, Dr. Ellie Pack, a breast radiologist, and Dr. Juan Ortiz, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon.

There will also be a fashion show with breast cancer survivors modeling clothing from local boutiques. Clothing and jewelry will be among items for sale at a shopping area.

And there will be plenty of food and drink and opportunities for fun.

The forum is being put on by the Fayetteville Area Breast Network, a nonprofit group dedicated to raising awareness in the area about breast health and local options for comprehensive care. Besides the annual forum, the network works through the year to spread its message, through literature and speaking engagements. It has also helped fund mammograms for more than 70 uninsured women and provided breast cancer patients with more than 200 bags filled with information about the disease and its treatment.

“We will continue to do that,” said Tyler Sutherland of the Cape Fear Valley Health Foundation, which administers the network’s funds.

Bruce Distell described the network as a grassroots effort of local medical personnel and community members with an interest in breast health. A key aim is to alert people to the fact that they can receive comprehensive care in Fayetteville for breast health issues, from initial breast scans through different sorts of cancer treatment to reconstructive surgery.

“People don’t know we have the full array of services here,” Distell said. “It’s nice to have Duke and UNC down the street but the lion’s share of things can be accomplished here.”

The network is working to connect with the minority community where the incidence and mortality rate from breast cancer is higher than average. Distell said that’s in part due to late diagnosis and lack of education about early screening and self-examination.

“We want to impact that community,” he said. “It’s vital to help them get much-needed care.”

Toward that goal, doctors in the network are going out and speaking to interested groups whenever possible.

The network is also involved in an effort to develop a multidisciplinary approach to breast care in Fayetteville. That would mean breast cancer patients’ cases could be considered by a team of specialists from different treatment areas to provide comprehensive planning and ease the stress on patients. Patients would also work with a nurse who would help them “navigate” their care plan from beginning to end and who could connect them with support services, including any needed social services.

“People like to know that everything is staged and set for them,” Distell said. “That’s what we’re trying to develop here.

For more information about the Fayetteville Area Breast Network, including arranging a speaker, or for more information about the third annual Breast Cancer Education Forum, check the organization’s Facebook page – facebook.com/bestforyourbreast.