Stories of Hope
Tell A Friend Program Helps Women Get Mammograms
Article date: October 15, 2001
Tell A Friend works. That all important bridge was a family friend who knew the doctor, who got her to go get treatment.
A Friend Can Make All the Difference
Having a friend who pesters you in a caring way to have a mammogram can make all the difference to your life. Peggy Baxter knows. As an American Cancer Society (ACS) volunteer for 20 years organizing African-American communities, she has seen how friends have affected friends’ health care attitudes and prevention awareness in positive ways where other methods have failed.
A director of clinical social work at a children’s hospital in Oakland, Calif., Baxter is no stranger to leadership and giving a hand where it’s needed.
A call she received asking her to get involved became an opportunity to educate the African-American community about cancer prevention and to connect African Americans to the resources of the ACS. She has served on the committee of special populations, helped to put on conferences, and is now a California division board member to the ACS National assembly.
Baxter gets involved with policy-making, but she prefers to stay at the grass roots level in direct contact with the people she serves. Nearly four years ago she helped to form, shape, and tailor the new Tell A Friend program for the African-American women in her community.
Why does she volunteer so much of her time? “It’s my belief that prevention is the key,” Baxter says. “African-American women die at greater numbers from breast cancer than others.” Baxter wanted to make a difference.
Baxter knows that the earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the better the chances for appropriate treatment and long-term survival. African-American women may have obstacles to getting access to mammograms: financial, cultural, different belief systems, and education levels.
Fatalistic Attitude Has to Be Changed
Baxter encountered a fatalistic attitude early on and a resistance to getting a mammogram. She says she was hearing from some women, “If cancer is a disease that God wants me to have, I don’t need to know about it early; it’s God’s decision.”
To which Baxter replies, “God has something to do with cancer research, and how we can use what we know about the disease to diagnose and get appropriate treatment. God’s will is in the scientific community, too.”
She explains that getting involved with ACS and the Tell A Friend program had an element of selfishness — wanting to help her own friends and family. “They are my major supporters in life. They laugh and cry with me, and I with them, and I want to have them around a long time.”
Volunteers Follow-up Until Women Get Help
Contributing in a time-limited commitment, volunteers learn the Tell A Friend message. In a disciplined manner, they call five people and follow-up that initial call until they make an appointment, have the mammogram, and hear the results.
Tell A Friend helps women understand the resources they have available if they don’t have insurance or transportation. It provides information on where to go if they need diagnostic treatment.
Through Tell A Friend, Baxter has directly helped a few hundred women. “It’s a drop in the bucket,” she says. “I want to keep building Tell A Friend, especially for women 65 years of age and older, as well as those closer to 40. Older women are particularly challenged; more isolated; more fearful; more economically minded. Medicaid has only paid for mammograms within the last three years.”
Tell A Friend can make a real difference. A friend of Baxter’s, a woman in her 80s, had a suspicious lump and went to her doctor for a checkup. Her doctor made a referral to a surgeon, but she didn’t want to go. “I’ve had a good life, I’ll just stay with this as it is,” she said. The doctor mentioned that the surgeon was really good friend of Peggy Baxter; and because of that connection, she decided to go. She had the surgery, and now has a good quality of life.
“Tell A Friend works,” Baxter notes. “That all important bridge was a family friend who knew the doctor, who got her to go get treatment. I want people to know that there are resources out there to help you, your loved ones, and your friends. A call to the ACS 800 number (1-800-ACS-2345) will help to get to those resources.”
Reach Out to Your Friends
“If you have cancer, reach out to your friends; you will be surprised how helpful a friend can be,” she says. “Too often a person thinks, ‘I’ve done something wrong to cause myself to have this.’ A friend helps you push through these resistances and reach out for help.”
“Educated African-American women have gotten their first mammogram because of Tell A Friend,” says Baxter. “We can’t assume that people we know, our health care providers, teachers, and professionals are taking care of themselves. We have to ask specifically, ‘When are you going?’ and follow up.”
“We have to be as comfortable talking about health as we do our beauty tips,” reminds Baxter.