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November 2009 Issue

Zera Brooks (left), a front desk receptionist at UC Health University Hospital, receives a visit by Breast Brigade volunteers Linda Demsy, a nurse in the hospital’s neuroscience intensive care unit, and Rayvetta Bryant (right), coordinator in the transplant program.
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'Breast Brigade' Embarks on a Mission to Educate

By Amanda Harper
Published November 2009

Karen Hanner says she might not be alive today if it weren’t for the persistence of some very good friends.

Hanner had neglected to have her annual screening mammogram for more than five years. When she did finally schedule the exam, it revealed stage-2 breast cancer. And it had spread to her lymph nodes.

“I can give you a million excuses for why I chose not to get that mammogram—I thought the disease couldn’t affect me, I was too busy, the list goes on—but none of them are good,” the single mom of two recalls.

In early 2007 Hanner underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiation for stage-2 cancer. She has been cancer-free for two years.

“That is a year of my life I can’t get back. If I had my mammogram, I may not have needed such rigorous treatment. I don’t want other women to make the same mistake I did,” says Hanner, who serves as clinical manager of the cardiac step down unit at UC Health University Hospital.

In October, Hanner teamed up two other University Hospital managers—Karen Ghaffari of the UC Barrett Cancer Institute at University Hospital and Cindy Gleason of radiology—to implement what they deemed the “Breast Brigade” for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Equipped with a pink cart full of educational materials and lots of motivation, they recruited a team of 30-plus volunteers to canvass the hospital on a mission to educate women about the benefits of prevention and early detection, encouraging self breast exams and mammograms.

Employees young enough to not yet need mammograms were given an educational card and asked to “pay it forward” with informational cards detailing the importance of mammograms and offering information on services at University Hospital.

The American Cancer Society recommends yearly mammograms for women age 40 or older. Women under age 40 should perform self breast exams monthly and have a clinical breast exam every three years.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, less than 70 percent of women age 40 or older have received their annual screening mammograms in the past two years. The rates are even worse among Asian and Hispanic women, with less than 60 percent getting the appropriate screenings.

Ghaffari estimates their team talked to hundreds of employees at University Hospital during the Breast Brigade’s two-week sweep Oct. 12–23.

In addition, they scheduled mammograms on the spot and passed out 1,100 informational cards to staff and visitors. The grassroots outreach effort concluded with a survivorship celebration in the hospital lobby, where breast cancer survivors treated at University Hospital gathered to celebrate life.

“We all know women who should be getting annual mammograms and aren’t. If we convinced just one woman to get her mammogram, I consider our efforts a success,” adds Hanner.

To schedule a mammogram at UC Health University Hospital, call (513) 584-1500. For information about cancer treatments at UC Health University of Cincinnati Physicians, call (513) 584-3200 or visit

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