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LTTE: September is National Prostate and Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

In recognition of September as National Prostate and Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, Gift of Life urges men and women to consult with their physicians, clinics, public health officials, and advocacy organizations, such as “Gift of Life,” about prostate and ovarian cancer and, whenever appropriate, to get screened for the diseases.

Prostate cancer is the second most frequently diagnosed cancer among men in America, affecting one man in nine. This year, nearly 192,000 men will have been diagnosed with this disease, and an estimated 33,330 men will lose their lives to it.

Prostate cancer goes beyond the men who are diagnosed because families are devastated when they lose husbands, fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and brothers. African American men are disproportionately affected with higher rates of prostate cancer diagnosis and death than men of other racial or ethnic groups in the United States.

The disease can also strike younger men, too, with almost one-third of prostate cancer occurring in men under the age of 65.

Early detection is the best protection against this complex disease. Gift of Life is fortunate to have committed medical partners who help provide free prostate cancer screenings for underserved men in our community. To date, the program has conducted more than 10,500 free prostate cancer screenings and helped diagnose nearly 80 men.

Due to COVID-19, Gift of Life’s annual Men’s Health and Wellness Screenings have been rescheduled for January 2021. They will include prostate cancer and primary care tests in key locations throughout Southeast Texas. Collaborative healthcare providers will extend vital medical services to men who are uninsured and underinsured, offering essential educational materials through event distribution sites and virtual learning opportunities. Participants with abnormal outcomes will be navigated to local physicians and clinics.

Alternatively, the public is still largely unfamiliar with ovarian cancer, a silent disease with vague symptoms, that ranks as the fifth leading cause of cancer-related death among women and the deadliest of all gynecologic cancers. It is estimated that 21,750 women will have received a diagnosis of ovarian cancer in 2020 and that nearly 14,000 women will die from the disease this year.

Gift of Life understands the importance of educating women about the risks of ovarian cancer, and in 2011 the Julie Richardson Procter Ovarian Cancer Educational Awareness Initiative was established to educate medical professionals and thousands of other individuals annually, providing information about the signs and symptoms of this devastating disease. Procter, an attorney, beloved Gift of Life board member and community activist, battled ovarian cancer with indomitable grace and courage and her legacy continues to impact generations of women. Refusing to be silenced by the disease that tragically took her life, she was passionate about conveying a message of early detection and education.

Three additional Gift of Life board members and committed volunteers, Georgie Volz, Lola Campbell Wilber and Norma Forey, lost their lives at young ages to this insidious disease, and the program also continues to dedicate its ongoing efforts in their loving memory.

Ovarian cancer is difficult to detect, particularly in its early stages, when only 19% of the cases are diagnosed. Women need to be aware of symptoms, such as bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, as well as difficulty eating. Risk factors include genetic predisposition, a family history of breast, ovarian or colon cancer, increasing age and infertility. Also, it is important to note that Pap tests do not detect ovarian cancer.

Gift of Life’s endeavors have never been more critical as the COVID-19 crisis has left our nearly 3,000 annual screening clients extremely vulnerable due to limited access to healthcare and other community resources compounded by unemployment and lack of insurance.

Everyone is feeling the health and economic effects of the pandemic in many different ways, and there are no easy answers. However, Gift of Life has remained committed to its mission because the families, patients and communities we serve need our support more than ever.

Cancer does not stop for a pandemic and neither will Gift of Life. With the kind and caring hearts of our donors, volunteers and other supporters, together we will reduce healthcare disparities and help continue saving lives.

We encourage Southeast Texans to become better informed about prostate and ovarian cancers and take the necessary steps to protect your health. Remember, the life you save may be your own.

With our love,

Regina Rogers (Founder) and Norma Sampson (Executive Director)