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Get back to cancer screenings

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, health screenings came to a crashing halt. What concerns Whitney Eikmeier, senior corporate relations manager at the American Cancer Society's Oregon and Southwest Washington branch, about cancelled or postponed mammograms is the time undiagnosed patients have lost over the past year and a half.

"The amount of cases that were undiagnosed in 2020 is pretty scary because those are just undiagnosed cases. It doesn't mean that people don't have cancer. We just don't know yet," said Whitney. "The future of cancer as we know it has changed. We'll see the impact for years to come."

During October's Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Whitney has a simple message to those who missed or delayed their appointments - get screened.

"We want the community to know that they need to get back to screenings," she said. "If they missed a screening in the last 18 months, they need to go in and get it done. That's a really important message for people right now. Because it does save lives."

At ACS, Whitney's responsibility is to connect with corporate partners like Moda Health and educate their employees and the community about what support, programs and services are available to cancer patients and their families. While COVID-19 continues to present a challenge, she said the ACS has had to adapt to ensure patients get the support and services they need.

"We've had to be a little more flexible in supporting our communities and their needs," she said. "We've pivoted to meet the community where they are and how we are able to meet them. We're doing what we can to continue to move our mission forward, educate the community, raise funds in the fight against cancer, and breast cancer, and keep the community safe while we are doing it."

Locally, the programs and services the ACS of Oregon and SW Washington provide include:

  • 1-800 support line: The 24-hour, all-inclusive phone line serves as a connector for people looking for information, questions and support, including patients, doctors and caregivers.
  • Reach-to-Recovery: Newly diagnosed breast cancer patients are paired up with a survivor with a similar diagnosis type. The program helps them connect, answer questions and share their experience, which is also healing for the cancer survivor.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: This nationwide campaign brings together communities in Central Oregon, Southern Oregon and Portland for events that raise awareness and money to support the ACS' mission to save more lives from breast cancer.
  • Making Strides Against Cancer: Traditionally a 5K walk in Portland, during COVID-19, ACS has conducted a Drive Thru Event where people can safely attend in their own vehicles to raise money for cancer research. It's a way to help bring the community together and offer a time for healing for cancer patients, their families and loved ones.
  • Promoting healthy and active living: Whitney says a active lifestyle and healthy eating are the No. 1 preventatives of cancer. Her local ACS chapter provides resources that educate people about cancer prevention health and active living, as well as post-diagnosis and nutrition options during and after treatment.
  • Healthcare advocacy: As activists leading the fight for a cancer-free Oregon, the ACS's Cancer Action Network, a non-partisan sister affiliate, works to make sure Oregon lawmakers know what's important to people in their state and pass laws to ensure all people have access to care and screenings.

Whitney said one of her goals is to raise awareness about the programs that the Oregon and Southwest Washington ACS chapter offers locally.

"We offer a sense of community to the cancer community," she said. "Our programs help bring people together so they know they are not alone in their journey."

With her team focused on local communities, she wants people to know that the funds raised through their programs such as Making Strides Against Cancer in Portland go directly back to the Oregon community.

"One of the unique things about our area is that Oregon receives more funds from ACS then our community raises here locally, which means your donations are local" she said. "We are actively funding research with OHSU. It's exciting to know that the money we raise is making a difference in our local community and the lives within it."

During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Whitney can't stress enough the importance of getting screened.

"For anyone who couldn't get their surgery to remove cancer right away, not getting screened could change a person's outcome, and their treatment options," she said. "Screenings are a strategy for preventing cancer. The earlier you find cancer, the more treatment options you have."

Visit the ACS' Oregon and Southwest Washington website today to learn about resources, programs and services that support local cancer and breast cancer patients.

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