According to the Wyoming Department of Health, a Wyoming woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every single day. This statistic and stories are the driving forces behind Wyoming Breast Cancer Initiative’s (WBCI) efforts to raise awareness and fund breast cancer programs throughout the state.
“Wyoming is rated among the lowest in the nation for breast cancer screenings. Our biggest mission is to facilitate more screenings,” said Pam Myrum, grant director for WBCI.
Since 2016, WBCI has functioned as the only nonprofit in the state that is dedicated solely to increasing early breast cancer detection, decreasing late-stage diagnosis, and supporting breast cancer survivors.
Through year-round fundraising efforts, WBCI disperses funds to local Wyoming programs through grants. WBCI grants are awarded to programs that provide services in one of four funding priority areas: education and awareness; screening and early detection; patient navigation; and providing support to breast cancer patients and survivors.
This year, WBCI has awarded grants to five different Laramie organizations:
1. Ivinson Memorial Hospital
2. Meredith & Jeannie Ray Cancer Center
3. ARK Regional Services
4. Wyoming Art Therapy
5. Laramie Reproductive Health.
These grants will support:
1. Monthly breast exams at ARK
2. Surviving and Thriving after Cancer classes at Ivinson Memorial Hospital
3. Early detection services at Laramie Reproductive Health
4. A new Registered Nurse Navigator position at the Meredith & Jeannie Ray Cancer Center
5. A weekend retreat for survivors hosted by Wyoming Art Therapy.
“The incredible services provided by these agencies meet all four of WBCI’s funding priority areas,” said Myrum. “We encourage the community to reach out to these agencies to learn more about the services they are providing.”
She explained that all of WBCI’s funding is raised locally and dispersed locally. In 2016, the Susan B. Komen foundation left Wyoming because they required a minimum of $1 million per year in fundraising, which wasn’t feasible in such a sparsely populated state.
WBCI began as a grassroots effort to fill a need for breast cancer awareness and services. It is a volunteer organization that employs one person. Since 2016, it has put back more than $500,000 into Wyoming communities, and has services in every county.
This year’s WBCI’s grants total over $48,000 in Laramie alone. An additional $100,000 was allocated to other projects across the state.
“Last year, we received a grant for the retreat, but we had to cancel because of COVID-19,” said Andi Berry, a licensed professional counselor and owner of Wyoming Art Therapy in Laramie. While Berry’s expertise spans many areas, she specializes as a cancer counselor.
Berry explained that she became a cancer counselor after her goddaughter was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma the day before her 13th birthday. Several years after the initial diagnosis, her goddaughter had to be hospitalized and received a bone marrow transplant. Today, she is still alive and thriving.
“I saw the effects that cancer has on an entire family,” Berry said. From that point on she knew she wanted to help alleviate the suffering for families impacted by cancer diagnoses.
Wyoming Art Therapy’s weekend retreat for breast cancer survivors is based on Brené Brown’s “Daring Greatly” curriculum, which focuses on shame and resilience.
“There are many feelings of shame that come with a cancer diagnosis,” Berry said. She explained that these feelings surface around body image and sexuality. Women often feel they haven’t been as good of parents or partners during their illness. The weekend retreat for survivors is designed to help women work through those feelings and share their experiences in a safe space.
“This year’s grant from WBCI will help fund the salary for a nurse navigator. This person will be someone who is knowledgeable about oncology, and will serve as the liaison between all of a patient’s care providers,” said Amy Smith, director of the Meredith & Jeannie Ray Cancer Center in Laramie.
She explained that the thought of cancer often inspires panic in people, and they may not know where to turn. She added that survival rates for people with breast cancer improve significantly if they have a nurse navigator to help them. This new position will help push through all the barriers that a person may encounter along their breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
“Women are the structural fibers of society. When women receive support, that helps support the economy, families, and the community as a whole,” Berry said. She added that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, but people are affected by this disease all year long. That is why WBCI’s efforts to fundraise and provide support all year are crucial to Wyoming communities.
ABOUT BREAST CANCER
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) notes that breast cancer is the second most common form of cancer for women. It is also one of the few cancers where early detection can literally be the difference between life and death.