Join the Challenge Against Cancer in Maine
More than 3,100 people in Maine will die of cancer this year, and another 8,200 will diagnosed at some stage of the disease. The hard fact of life is Maine currently has the 11th highest cancer rate in the nation, and the worst of all the New England states. This has to change.
A few weeks ago, at the 8th annual Tri for a Cure, I had the privilege of announcing a new campaign. Challenge Cancer 20/20 is our plan to cut Maine’s cancer rates 20% by the year 2020, with a strong emphasis on cancer prevention, early detection and improving patient outcomes.
Reactions to this announcement have ranged from “A 20% cut? Is that even possible?” to “20%? is not enough! Why not 50% or 100%?”
A New Emphasis on Cancer Prevention:
Over the years, I’ve discovered when you talk with someone in Maine about cancer, they often nod and say "oh yes, we need more research.” They’re shocked when I tell them we already know how to eliminate more than half of the cancer cases happening in this state.
That’s correct: 50-60% of cancer cases in Maine COULD BE STOPPED BEFORE THEY START. I’ve put that in capital letters because I feel it is so important to understand. Challenge Cancer is our audacious way of saying: "this is in our hands". We don’t have to wait for a radical breakthrough in drug therapy to make a positive and profound impact on cancer. We can take the hard-won knowledge of the past decades and implement proven prevention strategies, today. Now.
The biggest prevention target in our state is tobacco. Cancer is the #1 killer in Maine, and tobacco is the #1 cause of cancer. We will also be working to encourage healthier eating habits and physical activity, as well as increase vaccinations for viruses that cause cancer, such as HPV. Cancer prevention is our commitment to Maine’s future, to our children and to ourselves.
Catch it Early: Treatable and Beatable
Another shocking fact: 1 in 3 cancer deaths in Maine could have been prevented if we had caught the cancer earlier when it was treatable and beatable. There are few things more tragic than losing a loved one because of a late-stage diagnosis. Getting physician-recommended cancer screenings is like wearing a seat belt: it’s can’t stop the crash, but your odds of survival increase dramatically.
Our 5-year challenge will be keeping Maine current on the benefits various screening tests can have, working to promote the most effective ones in Maine, and getting the word out to people. For example, colorectal cancer and melanoma are easy to detect and highly treatable when caught early. No one should every have to die from a treatable cancer.
The Right Care, The Right Time, The Right Place
100% - that’s the number of cancer patients in Maine who should get the right care, at the right time, in the right place. Cancer is an issue that affects all of us; we believe that geography and income should not be a factor in cancer survival. We will be providing support in several areas, such as funding more nurse navigators for cancer patients, improving transportation services and working to include more Maine patients in clinical trials.
Mainers are famous for their stoic attitude and independent streak, but cancer is not something that can be ignored. We hear people say, "I don't feel quite right, but I don't want to go to the doctor,” or “I don't have a primary care person,” or “I got a diagnosis, but I can't get my head around how the treatment is going to work,” so they delay treatment and the chances of survival are reduced. We have to change that.
Challenging Cancer Head On:
In the coming months, we will be rolling out the first wave grant funding to support these “Challenge Cancer” targets. As the Executive Director, I'm looking forward to the conversations I will get to have with other cancer programs across the state.
I’ll sit across the table from them and say "What can you do, how can you best cut cancer for Maine?" and they'll pause for a second and say "Well… we could expand (this or that) program, but there's no money for that." and I'll say to them "Oh, no. Maine can support this. We want this. We want you to save those lives.“
The spirit of Challenge Cancer: 20/20 is this: we want a significant improvement in Maine’s cancer rates, and the fastest way to create this change is by focusing on cancer prevention, early detection and improved care. I’m excited about the scope of this plan, but I would like to see more. A 20% improvement would only bring us in line with the national average for cancer incidence and mortality. We can do better, and we will do better, starting with Challenge Cancer 20/20.
We can save lives today. Now.
Tara Hill is the Executive Director of Maine Cancer Foundation