Breast cancer survivors get VIP treatment at Gillette Stadium

Breast cancer survivors at Gillette Stadium Oct. 2013

Twenty American Cancer Society volunteers, all of them breast cancer survivors, were VIP guests at the now famous October 13 New England Patriots game - the game in which Tom Brady, with five seconds remaining, threw a 17-yard pass to beat the undefeated New Orleans Saints 30-27.

The 20 women, along with 35 other breast cancer survivors who are season ticket holders, got to watch the pre-game practice, meet with the cheerleaders, and then line up alongside the field as the players ran out of the locker room in front of a crowd of 70,000 fans. This was all part of “A Crucial Catch: Annual Screening Saves Lives” partnership among the National Football League, the NFL Players Association, and the American Cancer Society to support National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This initiative reminds women 40 and older about the importance of getting an annual mammogram. If you watched the game, you'll know that Patriots players and coaches wore pink game apparel, too.

Four of the women were Reach to Recovery volunteers from Massachusetts: Maureen Stout of Maynard, Janice Russell of Stoneham, Deb Lannon of Lawrence, and Sharleen Moffatt of Turners Falls. The 16 others are Making Strides participants who won an online fundraising challenge offered by the New England Division. Four were from Massachusetts, four from Rhode Island, and two each from New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, and Vermont. Each got two tickets to the game so they could bring a guest with them. In order to get into the drawing for the tickets, the Strides participants had to raise at least $25 in 24 hours. More than 700 breast cancer survivors across New England entered the challenge, and the 16 winners drawn randomly were: Peggy Marchand, Hilary Carlson, Barbara Green, Donna Wilbur, Elisha Elliott, Lori Davis, Wendy Bianca, Linda Farrell-Wojcik, Maria Scurry, Susan Ahearn, Mary Musto, Sally Lampi, Linda Komulainen, Linda Carpaco, Kim Sonntag, and Becky Nero.

During the pre-game ceremonies, Patriots owner Bob Kraft, on behalf of the NFL's Crucial Catch program, presented a $50,000 check to the Community Health Center of Franklin County, Inc., which provides underserved women with breast cancer screenings in the Greenfield, Turner Falls and Orange, MA, areas. Thanks to a $50,000 check from the NFL last year, the health center exceeded its goal and was able to reach 738 women through outreach and education efforts and provide 733 breast cancer screenings during the first-year grant period, October 2012 – July 2013.  In addition, the center implemented a new quality care measure and used its Electronic Health Records (EHR) system to determine if a patient was due for a breast exam or mammogram prior to their arrival for an appointment. 
Carmen, a 30-year-old Latina, was just one woman who benefited from the center's work. At an outreach event at a local food pantry, a physician explained to her the importance of early detection and encouraged her to get a free on-site breast exam. During the exam it was discovered that Carmen had a small mass in her breast. Carmen needed a new medical provider, so her records were quickly transferred to the health center and within a short period of time she was seen by a clinician who would become her new primary care provider. Carmen was referred to a specialist who performed a mammogram, which thankfully showed no reason for concern. The experience nonetheless served as an essential reminder of the importance of early detection and regular access to preventive care and screening.