Written by Walter Johnson
As 2011 draws closer to its end, two organizations dedicated to fighting cancer in Albany and southwest Georgia are looking forward to 2012.
Southwest Georgia Cancer Coalition President and CEO Diane Fletcher said she took her current job to help reduce cancer rates in the region.
“I found it to be an opportunity to really make a difference in local communities,” said Fletcher. “When I learned about the high rates of cancer in southwest Georgia, I was an oncology nurse, I had done research, education, and worked in hospitals, and it just seemed to be a good fit for my background, and wanted to try to change the statistics in our local communities here.”
Communications and Development Manager Mandy Flynn finds working for the coalition to be very personal, as many of her family members either have been diagnosed with cancer, or have succumbed to the disease.
“Cancer, unfortunately, has touched our family greatly,” Flynn said. “My father died of cancer, my grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and one of my sisters has had breast cancer, and (also), another form of cancer, and she’s doing great now.
“So, cancer is really a part of our lives, and I wanted to help any way that I could,” Flynn added.
As a senior community manager for the Albany chapter of the American Cancer Society, Jessica Davis is also helping to make a difference in the fight against cancer.
“I wanted to make a difference in my community,” Davis said. “American Cancer Society is helping people (to) stay well, with steps to prevent cancer, get well.
“They’re in our corner, around the clock, to help you get through every step of your cancer experience,” Davis added. “They’re finding cures through research, and they’re fighting back with lawmakers, and rallying communities worldwide to join the fight against cancer.”
Leading healthier lives
Fletcher says the best part of her job is to help people live healthier lives, through practicing healthy lifestyles.
“I really enjoy the opportunity to change people’s lives,” Fletcher said, “to help them to learn how to live healthier, for example, to stop smoking, to exercise, to eat a healthier diet.
“All the things that you and I and everybody else knows that we should do, (but) we often don’t follow that,” explained Fletcher. “A lot of what we do at the cancer coalition is teaching individuals about how to change their lives.
“So I very much enjoy that, and also helping people to get the care they need if they are at risk for cancer, and (are) diagnosed with cancer, and we refer them to the local cancer centers, where they can be treated, or we provide screenings for individuals who are uninsured.”
Challenges facing the Coalition
The challenges that the Southwest Georgia Cancer Coalition faces, according to Fletcher, are numerous, especially trying to get the funding needed to help continue its work in battling cancer.
“The biggest challenge is that we cover a broad area, 31 counties, (in southwest and south central Georgia),” Fletcher said. “So, it’s such a large area, with about 700,000 residents.
“So, probably, the biggest challenge is reaching all of the individuals and families that need to be educated, or need services.
“The other challenge is resources, because, particularly in this economy, we receive funding from a number of different sources, and as we all know, the federal budget, the state budget, individuals, and foundations, everybody has been watching their dollars more, so we are limited by what we can provide by the resources that we have, the funding, and the other support.
“So, there’s a lot of need in the area, it’s a large area, and I wish we had millions of dollars, because we could do everything that we could do, and that’s the challenge.”
Flynn said much of the funding that the coalition receives comes not only from public and private resources, but also from everyday citizens.
“A lot of our funding comes from different sources, we get funding through the state of Georgia,” said Flynn. “We also get funding through private foundations, and grants that we apply for.”
“But much of our funding,” Flynn explained, “comes from private donations, and just regular people, who believe in our mission, and our cause.”
The newest grants and the “Bunko” tournament
Recently, the coalition received a new grant from the state government that will control tobacco use in southwest Georgia. It includes a media campaign which allows people to use to Georgia Tobacco Quit Line to help them quit smoking.
“The new grant that we received,” Fletcher explained, “(which) is from the Georgia Department of Public Health, it’s through state funding, and it’s particularly, we are to use that for better tobacco control, especially to help people quit smoking, or not to smoke at all.”
As for the “Bunko” tournament, it’s simply a good game of dice for a good cause, added Fletcher.
“It’s a simple game of dice, it’s not gambling,” Fletcher said. “It’s just a very simple game that people play, and it’s really just, the ‘Bunko’, doing that is just a way to bring individuals together for a fun-filled social evening, but that they know what they’re donating by their registration fee, by items we have donated from local businesses, to the auction, they know that every penny that is raised through those events, helps to support the cancer coalition.”
Focused on finding a cure
As the Southwest Georgia Cancer Coalition prepares to celebrate its 10th anniversary, Fletcher says the organization is focused on finding a cure for cancer in the region.
“Everything that we do is focused on finding the answers here,” Fletcher said. “Finding out why the rates of cancer are higher than average (in southwest Georgia).
“We need to find the best ways to approach this so that we can prevent cancer, we can better control it, and so that individuals here know that we exist exclusively to serve the communities here.
Flynn says she’s looking forward to celebrating the first decade of the coalition’s founding.
“We are just so excited about our 10th anniversary coming up,” she said. “We have so many great things that have gone on the last 10 years. We serve the population that we serve in our 31 counties.”
“Through our cancer screening program, we have helped people to find early stages of pre-cancers that have been resolved, that hopefully, have prevented them from getting cancer down the road.
“We have been partners with the Emory (University) Prevention Research Center,” Flynn added. “In partnership with (Emory), they have done some amazing things in our community, helping people learn to eat right, (and) exercise, so that, hopefully, they fend off cancer, even better, even easier.
“We’ve done some amazing things that we’re very proud of.”
On The Web: Southwest Georgia Cancer Coalition—http://www.swgacancer.org
American Cancer Society—http://www.cancer.org