Americus Times-Recorder, Americus, Georgia

Local News

December 3, 2013

Lifestyle pushes cancer rate up in South Georgia

AMERICUS — Diane Fletcher, chief executive officer of the Cancer Coalition of South Georgia, an independent, nonprofit organization, was a recent speaker for the Americus Kiwanis Club.

The Coalition works with various partners so that South Georgia receives the highest quality services. Coalition donors and volunteers give their time and resources so that families, friends and coworkers can fight cancer. The Coalition serves individuals in 32 counties, and 100 percent of funding stays in these 32 counties.

Fletcher recognized Shelly Sullivan, a local cancer survivor and current member of the Coalition board of directors. She also recognized state Rep. MIke Cheokas and former state Sen. George Hooks for their efforts in the state capital, and Kiwanian Marie Waitsman who is a big fund raiser.

Fletcher asked that everyone in the room stand. She then asked for anyone who has been closely affected by cancer (either personally or a family member or close friend) to remain standing. No one sat down.

She said that the death rate to cancer in South Georgia is high because too many people wait too late to get a diagnosis. She said this is because of the high poverty level of this area of the state where people may not be well insured or have access to healthy foods.

“We are doing things about this,” she said. “We are local and serve the people of this area ... everything we do, programs and services, is from resources here.”

The Coalition uses outreach, education and research to lower the cancer rate of people in South Georgia. The Coalition’s cancer screening program has received national attention, having been on CNN, according to Fletcher, who added that Terrell County has the highest rate of colo-rectal cancer deaths in the nation.

“We bring together all these different providers and my staff are the navigators ... we provide individualized assistance and this is why it works,” she said.

The program, just started in Americus, she said, provides services for uninsured or underinsured individuals to pay for cancer screenings. The Coalition gets them under the care of a primary physician and specialist if necessary. Navigation, Fletcher said, is the key to success.

The navigators explain to the individual each step and make sure they keep their appointments and properly prepare prior to diagnostic procedures.

The focus of this new program in Sumter County is colo-rectal cancer, Fletcher said, but other screenings for other cancers will be added later as funding becomes available.

In the 32-county area the Coalition serves, there are only five counties that have tobacco-free school systems, she said. Sumter County is not one of them. Fletcher said this is something they’re trying to get started here and in other counties.

Another focus is on obesity and how to combat it.

Fletcher said donations in memory or honor of someone make wonderful Christmas gifts. She also said that volunteers are needed in Sumter County.

During a question and answer period, Fletcher was asked why the rate of cancer is so high in South Georgia. She attributed this to the early age of children starting to smoke and pregnant women smoking. She said the “traditional diet” of this area of the state is not healthy and puts individuals at higher risk of colon cancer and other cancers.  She also said lack of physical activity attributes to cancer.

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