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LRGH expands reach of mammography services

Betsy Chapin, Gilford resident and breast cancer survivor, visits the brest cancer art exibit on display at the Belknap Mill in downtown Laconia. (Jeff Ferland) (click for larger version)
October 12, 2011
LACONIA — With advances in digital mammography, LRGH Oncology staff have reported increased success in early breast cancer detection.

That ability to detect the onset of cancer sooner played a key role in the case of Gilford resident Betsy Chapin, breast cancer survivor.

With any form of cancer, early detection can be the difference between life and death. Thanks to Digital Mammography advancements, early detection in patients such as Chapin can lead to different treatments and an overall better survival rate.

The problem is, not everyone can afford proper screening.

In an attempt to alleviate financial barriers between potential patients and proper screening, the LRGH staff recently received a grant to provide digital mammography screening to the non-insured, under-insured, and patients with high deductibles who may opt out of screening because of financial issues.

"We don't want financial barriers for patients," said Lisa Thornton, medical imaging coordinator. "We want to make it as easy for patients as possible."

According to RN Ginny Witkin, who played a tremendous role in the grant application process, funds are distributed on a need-basis, and patients pay a rate similar to Medicare.

Their issue, which they hope to address during October, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, is getting the word out about their new grant, and expanding to include residents who are not currently patients and may qualify for funding from the grant.

They stressed that early detection is key; Chapin can attest to that.

When Chapin was 17-years-old, her mother died because of breast cancer re-occurrence. With a family history of cancer, Chapin knew to get screenings; which she began regularly at 30-years-old.

"I've lived with it. Its in my life forever," said Chapin. "Digital mammography saved me."

Chapin, a mother of three sons and wife of endocrinologist Barry Chapin, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer in June 2010, at 47-years-old.

After seeing her mother go through cancer treatment, Chapin viewed her diagnosis as a death-sentence.

"The doctors said 'it doesn't look good.' I was in shock," said Chapin, recalling the early days after she received her test results. "I lived through this. I thought it would never happen to me, and here it was on my doorstep."

As far as cancer diagnoses go, Chapin considers herself lucky. Her diagnosis was a stage-one cancer, and though it was an aggressive form, it was still localized, and had yet to spread beyond her breast tissue.

Thanks to the early detection, Chapin was eligible for a clinical trial treatment. She went through five out of six cycles of treatment, but could not finish because she became very sick after the fifth cycle.

She then underwent seven weeks of radiation treatments five days per week; 35 sessions in all.

Chapin is now healthy, but said she will never consider herself cancer-free, as she carries a 10 to 15 percent chance of re-occurrence.

"I cried a lot," she said, laughing now. "You've got to laugh. I'm not crying anymore."

Chapin says she is now closer to her family and friends than ever before, and said their support helped pull her though the bad days.

"I've had enough bad days," said Chapin. "Every day is a good day."

For more information on LRGH services and digital mammography screening, contact the hospital at 524-3211 or visit their digital mammography and breast health Web site at www.lrgh.org/womens.aspx?id=2028 and www.lrgh.org/womens.aspx?id=2438 to print forms to apply for their screening programs and financial assistance.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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