A Q&A with the spokeswoman of the American Cancer Society’s Macon chapter

Spokeswoman of the American Cancer Society’s Macon chapter talks progress

jmink@macon.comOctober 6, 2013 

If the American Cancer Society has its way, the past 100 years will be the last century for cancer. Since the organization formed 100 years ago, treatment and prevention of cancer has improved drastically, with more than 400 lives saved each day.

Still, it’s a disease that continues to plague people across the nation and in Middle Georgia. As the nation commemorates Breast Cancer Awareness Month, The Telegraph spoke with Elissa McCrary, senior director of media relations for the American Cancer Society in Atlanta and spokeswoman for the Macon organization.

QUESTION: The American Cancer Society is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. How has cancer survival changed over the years?

ANSWER: I think especially over the last 20 years, since the early ‘90s, we have seen cancer rates really do some dramatic declining. For example, breast cancer deaths are down, I believe, 34 percent. I think one of the major things we’ve seen over the last few years is a continued decline in cancer death rates for the bigger cancers, breast cancer, colon cancer.

QUESTION: How has the organization evolved?

ANSWER: The main thing we have done is remain true to our mission, and that is we’re looking to eliminate cancer as a major health threat, and we’re looking to alleviate suffering of cancer patients. We’re one of a few organizations that focus on all cancers. Our research is focused on funding the best proposals ... that will have the greatest breakthroughs, something that is really going to have an impact on cancer diagnosis or cancer deaths.

We’re saving over 400 lives a day today thanks to all the wonderful advances. Four hundred lives are being saved now that would have been lost to cancer 20 years ago. ... Our goal is to save 1,000 lives a day. We want this past century to be cancer’s last century.

QUESTION: Is there a type of cancer that is more prevalent in Middle Georgia?

ANSWER: I think not. There are certain cancers, for example, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women other than skin cancer. Despite the fact that we’ve made enormous progress, it’s still the second-(leading) cancer killer among women. Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer of men and women, and that’s everywhere. Those things are true across the board, no matter where you live.

QUESTION: What are some general steps people should take to help prevent cancer?

ANSWER: Obesity, a lack of physical activity, those things are triggers for different kinds of cancer. Obviously, be active, eat a healthier diet, don’t smoke, don’t use tobacco products. But on top of that, get regular screenings. If you’re a man, talk with your doctor about prostate screenings ... and colon cancer is one of those cancers that can pretty much be prevented if you have a regular colonoscopy starting at 50, and that’s men and women.

But the biggest is ‘don’t smoke.’ We know tobacco is linked to so many cancers and many ailments in general. Also, drink any alcohol in moderation and get cancer screenings.

QUESTION: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. What are some specific steps women should take to prevent and detect the disease?

ANSWER: If you’re a woman 40 or over, we recommend getting regular mammograms. They’re the best thing out there to detect breast cancer early. We also recommend that women get familiar with their breasts so if there’s a change, whether you’re 30 or 20 or whatever age, you will know if there’s a change. If you have a family history of breast cancer ... you need to let your doctor know.

We recommend that women watch their weight. ... We recommend that they lead a more active life, and if they’re not active, we encourage them to get active. It can be as little as a leisure walk. ... There was a study that came out that showed walking an hour a day helps reduce a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer. We recommend alcohol in very moderate amounts for women, and cigarette smoking, we recommend ‘no.’

QUESTION: What is some advice for caregivers of cancer patients?

ANSWER: Caregivers are under a lot of stress. ... We recommend that you find a community-based support group. When someone in your family gets cancer, the whole family has cancer. So caregivers need their support as well.

QUESTION: In the face of a weak economy, many organizations have struggled financially. Is the local American Cancer Society facing any funding issues?

ANSWER: We’re fortunate in that we’re a national organization, and the good news about that is we’re in good financial shape. That is not to say we might have to let a program go from time to time if we don’t see the benefit in it ... but everything that has been available is still available.

QUESTION: What are some examples of the programs the American Cancer Society offers to help cancer patients?

ANSWER: Whether that is the Look Good Feel Better program (which helps cancer patients with wigs, makeup and other needs) or the Road To Recovery where our volunteer drivers are specially trained to provide transportation to and from cancer treatment, all of those things are available. Plus all of our resources, from our national call center to our website, are available. If you call our cancer center on Christmas Day, you’re going to get somebody. There’s our Hope Lodges nationwide. We have one in Atlanta. They provide free lodging for cancer patients, and a caregiver can stay with you.

QUESTION: How important are volunteers?

ANSWER: We’re the largest volunteer-driven organization, I believe, in the country. We could not do what we do without volunteers. We have 3 million volunteers nationwide, and they are our lifeblood. Many of them are cancer survivors themselves, or they are people who have experienced cancer in their lives. We absolutely could not do it without them.

QUESTION: How can people volunteer or seek help?

ANSWER: They can go to www.cancer.org. They can call 1-800-227-2345, or they can call their local American Cancer Society Office.

The Macon office can be reached at 743-6391.

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