21-year tradition makes annual mammograms a social occasion for New Castle seniors

21-year tradition makes annual mammograms a social occasion for New Castle seniors

Women from the Weston Senior Center pose with members of the cancer outreach team for a group photo after their mammograms. For 21 years, the seniors have made their annual mammograms into a fun outing.

Only a few years ago, Joan Gartley dreaded her annual mammogram. That was before she became part of a group that has turned cancer screenings into an enjoyable social event.

“By yourself, you sit and worry,” says the 62-year-old New Castle woman, who was successfully treated for breast cancer five years ago. “With a group, it’s fun.”

On Oct. 23, Gartley and 31 other women from the Howard Weston Senior Center in New Castle made a day of it. They dressed in pink, put on their lipstick and took a bus to the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center at Christiana Care to get mammograms.

It’s an annual event for the seniors at Weston, says Sandra Krett, the center’s executive director. The tradition began 21 years ago, when Christiana Care sent a mobile screening van to the center. For the past 11 years, the women have been coming to Christiana Care.

As they awaited their appointments at the Breast Center, the women played bingo on pink punch cards, followed by a raffle for insulated lunch bags from Avon Foundation for Women, which provides an annual Breast Health Outreach Program grant to help fund outreach and education for women through Christiana Care’s Community Health Outreach and Education Program.

After the women completed their screenings, they climbed back on the bus and headed off to a leisurely lunch at HomeTown Buffet in Newark.

Carmen Rief, 80, of New Castle came at the encouragement of her neighbor, 71-year-old Ruth Guarente. Rief knows the risk of developing breast cancer rises as women grow older. About half of all cases are diagnosed in women over age 65, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“Ladies in my age group need to take care of ourselves,” she says.

Krett notes that at least one woman from the Weston group has been called back for more testing or treatment in 16 out of the first 20 years the seniors have been having mammograms.

The very first was her mother, Audrey Thompson, who was 75 and had never had a mammogram before. The test revealed a malignant mass in her breast.

Krett’s mother was treated successfully and resumed a healthy and productive life for another 10 years before dying of natural causes.

“My mother agreed to be tested to support the program — and it was a good thing she did,” Krett said.

Christiana Care is committed to making screenings readily available to people in the community, improving access to quality care that saves lives.

“For the seniors, the convenience of having a bus ride to their appointment and getting help in filling out paperwork removed obstacles to getting a mammogram,” says Nora Katurakes, manager, Community Health Outreach and Education at the Graham Cancer Center.

Sharing the experience with friends also is a great motivator.

“Women at this age may no longer have a spouse or partner, and this group offers them support,” she says. “Also, some of the women are caregivers — and the encouragement for them to put themselves first at this annual screening is so important.”

Photo gallery: Westin Senior Center annual mammograms

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