2003-06-27 / Community

Rockaway Women Have Access To Cancer Care

Contributing E ditor
By Miriam Rosenberg
Rockaway Women Have Access To Cancer Care By Miriam Rosenberg Contributing E ditor

Geri Barid of Hewlett HouseGeri Barid of Hewlett House

More women die of breast cancer each year than any other type of the disease.

For that reason, when I began researching this article, I was hoping to report on the many resources in Rockaway that are available to women with breast cancer.

While I found that there are not as many as I had first hoped to find, there are several valuable resources for breast cancer patients nearby.

Both St. John’s Episcopal Hospital and Peninsula Hospital offers Rockaway residents breast clinics.

Peninsula Hospital Center’s clinic is run by Dr. Horace Herbsman He said that the clinic offers two types of services – regular screening and free screening.

The free screening clinic, part of community outreach for the hospital, is held once a month. It includes examinations, mammograms and instructions for women on how to do self-exams.

The American Cancer Society funds the regular screening.

"The regular screening clinic, where people can be referred or come on their own, is held once a week," said Dr. Herbsman. "Anyone can come for a routine exam."

St. John’s also has a breast clinic with payment decided on a on a sliding scale.

"Patients get breast screening in risk assessment, or they get the full breast examination," said Dr. Gilbert Makabali, Chairman of Surgery at St. John’s. Such services as mammograms, sonograms (when necessary) are also available at St. John’s.

Both hospitals do surgery and chemotherapy. For radiation treatment, St. John’s refers its patients to Peninsula Hospital.

Dr. Makabali points out that many women may find a lump and deny they have it.

"A lot of people have the fear that breast cancer is a death [sentence], but it is not," said Dr. Makabali. "They need the information that when it is diagnosed early, breast cancer is a curable problem."

While St. John’s and Peninsula both offer medical resources to women in the Rockaway, non-medical support is few and far between.

St. John’s refers patients to other places for support services and Peninsula hospital offers a short-term support group that meets once every Friday. The first group began in May. Melissa Prushik is the social worker for the group and Rose Marakas is the RN.

"The group is for, if you’ve had or have breast cancer – wherever you are in the spectrum," said Prushik, who said that anyone interested in the group could call 718 734-2597. "The plan is to meet for about six sessions and then have a new group. The benefit people will have is that they met people within the group and can support each other beyond the group."

There is also a breast cancer hotline at 800 877-8077.

The saving grace, for not just the Rockaways, but also for Nassau and Suffolk Counties is Hewlett House located at 86 East Rockaway Road in Hewlett. It opened it doors in January 2002 and welcomes people from all over the Rockaway Peninsula.

"We have seen or spoken to thousands of people from different walks of life and economic backgrounds," said Debbie Blick, the Resource Manager for Hewlett House and a survivor.

Hewlett House is quite unique in that it is, what you may call, a one-stop-shop for nonmedical support services for all those touched by breast cancer. Services that are provided include support groups, free wigs and prosthesis’s and caring people who have either had breast cancer or had their lives touched by it.

The recently started support group meets Tuesdays from 11a.m. to noon and is run by Jill Alper. Like Peninsula Hospital’s support group everything is confidential, but unlike that group it is not short-term.

"The way we have been doing [the group] so far is drop-in," said Alper, a social worker whose mother passed away 10 years ago from breast cancer. "Anybody who wants to come can come. I have an open door policy right now."

Many of the rooms in the old converted farmhouse are multi-functional and can be used for meetings, nutrition classes and a library.

On Thursday an art class is run in the dining room to, as Debbie Blick put it – "Heal your mind and heal your body."

"We have an art therapist that comes in and people sit down and do these wonderful projects to relax," said Blick.

Upstairs is a private room where women can choose wigs and other needed essentials such as mastectomy bras or post-surgery camisoles.

"If there’s somebody that cannot find one, or they need a mastectomy bra or a prosthesis or a wig and they’re underinsured or have no insurance, they can come here and it’s free," said Blick. "We even tell them where they can go for styling [of the wig], where they can get accessories, and how they can care for the wig."

In the Outreach Room women can be shown how to perform breast self-examinations or find information on such things as genetic testing, exercise, different forms of treatment and risk assessment for breast cancer. They can even be shown how to use prosthesis.

"Our goal is to give somebody hope, and then arm them with the information and resources to get there," said Blick.

Hewlett House can be reached by calling 516 374-3190 or on the web at www.hewletthouse.org.

While both Dr. Makabali and Dr. Snehanshu Ghosh, Chairman of St. John’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology believe that there are not enough resources for those going through the disease of breast cancer in the Rockaways, Dr. Ghosh described – what he hopes will someday be a valuable tool in the fight against breast cancer in the area – a breast cancer tumor board that is similar to the one that is now at St. John’s for all types of tumors. By working together, the doctors involved will decide the best course of treatment for a particular patient.

"It will obviously include a breast specialist, a breast surgeon, a gynecologist, the pathologists involved, a radio therapist, an oncologist and a psychologist – same thing as a tumor board, except that the tumor board is a formal hospital function," said Dr. Ghosh. "This will be in a different capacity – only for breast cancer."

Breast Cancer was not a death sentence when I went through it back in 1995, and with all the advances made in such a short time, it certainly is not now. There is also no reason for anyone to go through the difficulties alone. Although, as Dr. Ghosh pointed out, the Rockaways still needs more services for women (and men) with breast cancer than there currently are, there are services available. With forward thinking people like Dr. Ghosh, and Hewlett House just a bus ride away – the Rockaways should be catching up to other places very soon. It has to. Too many lives depend on it.

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