Fight Against Breast Cancer Close to Home

Julie Stewart of Willow Creek, survived a battle with breast cancer and walked 39 miles in the July 2012 Avon Walk in San Francisco to help raise funds for cancer awareness, research, and treatment. / Photo by Kristan Korns, Two Rivers Tribune.

By KRISTAN KORNS, Two Rivers Tribune

Julie Stewart found out she had breast cancer only because of a mammogram taken during her yearly health exam in May 2009.

“I’ve always had annual mammograms,” Stewart said. “If I hadn’t had the mammogram, I wouldn’t have found out until much later.”

According to a study by the American Cancer Society, finding out later can lower the survival rate by over 70 percent.
“There are so many people in the Valley and in Eastern Humboldt who’ve been affected by breast cancer,” Stewart said.

Stewart said that she had several operations to remove the cancer, followed by reconstructive surgery.

Afterwards, a woman that she worked with, whose mother died of breast cancer, told her about the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. Participants walk 39 miles to raise money for cancer awareness, prevention, and treatment.

“I did my treadmill and walked a lot to get ready,” Stewart said. “I’m kind of on a mission to make sure that more people I care about aren’t affected.”

Unfortunately, not enough women in Humboldt and neighboring counties have the annual mammograms needed to catch breast cancer early, when it’s easiest to treat.

The California Center for Rural Policy published a study showing that over one-fourth of Willow Creek women and more than one-third of Hoopa women haven’t had a mammogram done in the past two years.

That low check up rate also caused the California Department of Public affairs to estimate that there will be 645 cancer deaths in Humboldt County this year, with 85 deaths from breast cancer alone.

MaryLou Marshall, a nurse at K’ima:w Medical Center in Hoopa, said that people have to travel out to the coast for screenings. There are no mammograms available in either Willow Creek or Hoopa.

“We refer patients to either Mad River in Arcata or St. Joe’s in Eureka,” Marshall said. “It depends on which one they prefer.”

Trisha St.Denis, Julie Stewart’s niece, went to this year’s Avon Walk to help support her aunt. They’ll both be walking as part of a local group in the 2013 Avon Walk.

“Cancer has affected a lot of people in my family; most closely, my aunt and my papa. Luckily they’re both survivors,” St.Denis said. “I have a cousin who is also a survivor, but I’ve lost two aunts.”

Many other families in the area have also been affected by the disease.

Karen Madsen, a cancer survivor from Willow Creek, volunteers at the Humboldt Community Breast Health Project based in Arcata.

The project provides cost-free help for women who have concerns about gynecological or breast cancer. They also go to health fairs, including the one at Neighborhood Facilities in Hoopa each year and encourage women to get annual mammograms.

“The reality is that I had cancer and my mother had cancer,” Madsen said. “So I worry about my two daughters.”

Leave a Reply