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Moore, Oberndorf Address Cancer Symposium

By Carol Moody Becker

Beaumont Mayor David W. Moore, Chair of the Conference’s Health and Human Services Committee, and Virginia Beach Mayor Meyera Oberndorf underscored the Conference of Mayors’ commitment to meeting the health care needs of the underserved before the 7th Biennial Symposium on “Minorities, the Medically Underserved & Cancer,” held February 9 through 13 in Washington, DC. The event was attended by 1,200 researchers, policymakers, and advocates from across the nation. Using the activities of the Mayors’ Campaign Against Breast Cancer to demonstrate their points, they addressed the topic of “The Unequal Cancer Burden: Bridging the Gap Through Public Health.”

Making Mammography Available to All

Mayor Oberndorf, a breast cancer survivor, said that early detection of her condition and successful treatment gave her cause to redouble her efforts for all Virginia Beach women to have equal access to screening and treatment. To this end, she has made use of her own experience and promoted breast cancer awareness through her work with the Virginia Beach Department of Public Health and the Beach Health Clinic, the latter being the sole source of health care for the medically indigent.

Early on, Mayor Oberndorf found that a significant number of low-income women did not qualify for publicly-funded mammography. She described the plight of these women to the community, which responded with a special fundraiser - - Adopt-A-MOMM Program: Making Opportunities for Mammograms a Must. Local businesses, organizations, civic groups, churches, and schools are recruited to adopt anonymously a medically indigent woman and make a contribution to Adopt-A-MOMM so that she may obtain a mammogram.

The Need for Patient Navigators

Mayor Oberndorf also said she advocates the use of public health patient navigators for underserved women who are diagnosed with breast cancer. She told the Symposium participants that all women, irrespective of income or educational level, need an objective person at their side when treatment options are presented. In her case, four friends and her husband accompanied her during diagnostic sessions with her physician, but they had to explain to her afterwards what was said because, “All I could think of was that I was going to die. I did not hear the words that were being spoken.”

Laying the Foundation for The Mayors’ Campaign Against Breast Cancer

Mayor Oberndorf described how she took her commitment to early detection to the national level, as she and Hempstead (NY) Mayor James Garner, then Chairman of the Health and Human Services Standing Committee, co-chaired a breast cancer awareness forum at the 1997 U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting. She said that this session, attended by about fifty mayors, was followed by a breast cancer awareness planning meeting at the 1997 Annual Meeting during which – due to the demonstrated interest and involvement of the mayors – Dr. David Satcher, then-Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and now Surgeon General, called for a Mayors’ Campaign Against Breast Cancer. Dr. Harold Freeman, Chairman of the President’s Cancer Panel and speaker at the planning meeting, strongly supported Dr. Satcher’s recommendation.

The Campaign, which now has 288 members, was launched by the Conference of Mayors in November 1997 under a five-year cooperative agreement with CDC. It has the following goals:

  • To save lives through early detection of breast cancer by encouraging more women to seek screening and mammography.

  • To support special outreach to priority populations – low-income, over fifty years old, and racial and ethnic minorities – encouraging them to seek CDC supported mammography.

Calling for Universal Health Care Coverage

Mayor Moore described the importance of the Intercultural Cancer Council (ICC), sponsor of the 7th Biennial Symposium, and the Conference of Mayors working together to meet the needs of the medically underserved. Taking a philosophical view of the issue, he said “No one can feel good about having a lot when others are going without.” He emphasized the longtime Conference commitment to the concept of universal health care, saying that such coverage is needed to remove the unequal burden of cancer upon the underserved – underscoring a theme heard throughout the symposium. He also spoke of his support for President Clinton’s budget proposal for $220 million for a new Medicaid option to provide insurance to uninsured women whose breast and cervical cancer is detected through federally supported screening programs.

Joining Forces at the Local Level

By combining public health resources and private funds, Mayor Moore asserted, a great deal can be done at the local level. As an example, he offered the Julie Rogers “Gift of Life” Program that serves Southeast Texas and has provided 2,000 mammograms for underserved women through its fundraising efforts. Started in 1994 as a memorial to a breast cancer survivor, this program works in tandem with the Memorial Hermann Baptist Hospitals, the Julie & Ben Rogers Cancer Institute, the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) Cancer Stop Program, and The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. Mayor Moore, who serves on the “Gift of Life” advisory board and is active in the program’s awareness activities and fundraisers, which are major annual events. He noted that this year’s fundraiser featured breast cancer survivor and actress Diahann Carroll and raised over $125,000 through a silent auction of more than 180 donated items and a drawing for a BMW roadster.

Special Outreach through the Mayor

Mayor Moore spoke of the unique position a mayor holds in the community, noting that he or she has access to all sectors, including those with populations that may be difficult to reach such as residents of public housing complexes. And in regard to breast cancer awareness, he said that a mayor’s actions can serve as an example to the entire community. In order to demonstrate the importance he attaches to early detection of breast cancer, each year Beaumont city employees receive time off to get mammograms during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

In closing, Mayor Moore emphasized the need for cultural sensitivity and inclusion when working with the underserved and minorities. To illustrate his point, he told the audience about attending a recent Chinese New Year’s celebration in Beaumont. When asked by a local resident why he went since he was not Chinese, he explained that by showing his interest in another culture, he shows his respect and makes the members of that group feel they are a part of Beaumont.

More Information

The ICC, sponsor of the Symposium, collaborates with the Conference on The Mayors’ Campaign Against Breast Cancer and related activities. Administered by Baylor University School of Medicine with assistance from The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, ICC promotes policies, programs, partnerships, and research to eliminate the unequal burden of cancer among racial and ethnic minorities and medically underserved populations in the United States.  Contact: ICC, PMB-C,1720 Dryden, Houston, TX 77030; telephone: 713-798-4617; fax: 713-798-3990; e-mail: icc@bcm.tmc.edu;  web site: http://icc.bcm/tmc.edu

For more information about The Mayors’ Campaign Against Breast Cancer, contact: Richard C. Johnson, Director of Health Programs, USCM, 1620 Eye St., NW, Washington, DC 20006, telephone: 202-861-6753; FAX: 202-887-0652; e-mail: rjohnson@usmayors.org


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