Taking the initiative

Eight local women and their community make a difference in breast health

Taught that early detection is the best defense against breast cancer, women of the Monterey Peninsula decided that new diagnostic technology was something they could not live without.

Eight women, some dealing with breast cancer themselves and all connected to someone who has dealt with it, formed the Breast Care Center Initiative specifically to raise $2.5 million to help bring digital mammography and other leading-edge technology to Community Hospital’s Breast Care Center. The fundraising was boosted by a $500,000 grant from the Monterey Peninsula Foundation, $200,000 from Community Hospital’s Auxiliary, and $100,000 from the Robert and Virginia Stanton Endowment Fund of the Community Foundation for Monterey County. The rest came from community contributions large and small, collected in less than a year. The total cost of the new equipment is more than $5 million, with Community Hospital funding the balance.

In their own words, the eight committee members talk about why they undertook the initiative.

Laurie Benjamin, co-chairperson

"After meeting with Carol Hatton of Community Hospital’s Development office and Jan Dunn, coordinator of the Breast Care Center, about the need to update the center’s diagnostic technology, I knew immediately that I wanted to help in any way I could. I saw it as an urgent need for women’s health in our community. In my work at a local oncology practice, I see women every day bravely dealing with their breast cancer, and I know early detection is a critically important factor in their outcomes. We are most fortunate to have Dr. Susan Roux, medical director at the Breast Care Center, and her colleagues overseeing our care, and we need to make sure they have the most up-to-date equipment and technology to provide these services. Our effort has clearly struck a chord, as support from the community has been overwhelming. I am so proud to be a member of this committee and to live in a community that, in less than a year, was able to raise the funds necessary to make this project a reality."

Suzanne Lehr, co-chairperson

"I co-chaired this initiative because, as an eight-year breast cancer survivor, I know the importance of early detection. Unfortunately, when my cancer was diagnosed, I had to leave our community to receive some procedures at a time I most needed the support of family and friends. In 2002, after a grass-roots initiative spearheaded by a group of extraordinary women, Community Hospital opened the state-of-the-art Breast Care Center, providing a comforting, caring, and communicative environment. We could rely on a seamless experience that provided expert screening and fast-track diagnosis and treatment plans, affording all women the opportunity to stay within their own community and support system.

"Since then, there have been incredible advances in digital high-definition mammography, bilateral magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with biopsy capabilities, and digitizers that change old analog film into digital. The bilateral imaging and biopsy capabilities came to Community Hospital in 2008. It is critical that we provide these other advanced diagnostic tools to our dedicated staff at the Breast Care Center so that every woman in our community receives access to the best detection and treatment. It has been thrilling to see the quick responsiveness of our community at all levels to help achieve our goal."

Linda Kagan Cosmero

"I became involved with the committee because I have an intimate understanding of how early detection can save lives. My sister, Melanie Canter, was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was just 30 years old. Luckily, it was caught early and Melanie is still here today sharing her story with young women everywhere. It is my hope that Dr. Roux has the best technological equipment available to keep women safe and to find cancer at its earliest and most curable stages. Growing up in this community has been a blessing, and it is my joy to contribute to keeping all the women I know happy, healthy, and cancer-free."

Dede BentDede and Marcia

"Community Hospital’s Breast Care Center Initiative has afforded our committee a unique opportunity to raise money for the benefit of all the women of our community. My sister is a 15-year breast cancer survivor, and my first cousin died from this disease. The repercussions affected all the members of our family. Right now the medical community is at a critical juncture in time where, through the use of new technology, it will be possible to identify breast cancer at its earliest and most treatable stages. Our initiative’s success will enable all local women to receive the most advanced diagnostic services possible. It has been a real joy to work with the dedicated and caring individuals who have been a part of this project."

Marcia Modisette

"My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 75 and, thankfully, had wonderful doctors and diagnostic equipment in San Diego. Now, at age 91, she is healthy and has had no recurrence. In the last several years, I have had five friends diagnosed with cancer, including co-chair Suzanne Lehr; most did not have any history of cancer in their families. I also became aware that most of these women had to travel out of Monterey to get much of their cancer treatment and, most important, their follow-up mammograms.

"When Suzanne approached me to raise the funds needed to acquire the digital mammography, I was more than happy to do what I could to help. We live in an extraordinary part of California and have extraordinary people who live here. We need to provide the kind of diagnostic services that our community deserves."

Jane Panattoni

"With my first brush with probable breast cancer, the rate of occurrence was 1 woman in 20. With my second brush, it was 1 in 13. Now it is, conservatively, 1 in 8. What does this rate of increasingly negative odds say for my daughters, my granddaughters, and all the women of the next generations? Breast cancer attacks mainly women, but it devastates

families. Its causes are many, and prevention remains elusive. Currently, early detection is the best defense against this difficult disease, and digital mammography is critical to early detection."

Lucy Reno

"As we all have, I’ve had a number of friends who have been confronted by breast cancer. But most sobering was when my mother-in-law, at age 92, developed the disease. I was on the original study committee before the Breast Care Center was established, a group mainly of breast cancer survivors who were very zoned-in on the need for a more consolidated process from diagnosis to treatment. It became a very sophisticated effort, and the result was the Breast Care Center. To listen to those women was very illuminating to me. When I heard about the effort co-chairs Laurie and Suzanne were making on this initiative, I wanted to be a part of it. I want to have the latest equipment for myself and everyone else. It’s been very gratifying to see the dedication these women have had, and the response from the community has been overwhelming."

Betty Kasson

"I am a three-time breast cancer survivor, and I know the reason I am here is because of advancements in the medical diagnosis and treatment of cancer. I want to make sure everyone has access to the treatment and care that keeps me healthy and alive and enjoying life. The community has been so generous. When I signed on, I had two questions: Can we improve access for underserved women? And what will happen to the used equipment? I learned that Community Hospital’s Sponsored Care Program provides financial assistance for those who qualify and that Peter Ueberroth started a memorial fund as a tribute to his late assistant, Sherry Cockle; it helps women who could not otherwise afford a screening mammogram. And I have been working on getting the old mammography equipment to the first mammography center in Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere. What benefits us will benefit them."