Health & Wellness

Breast Health Program Targets Local Schools

Project Self-Sufficiency Breast Health Educator Haley McCracken meets with local students to discuss the importance of early detection in the fight against breast cancer. Credits: Lisa Pachnos

NEWTON, NJ - Project Self-Sufficiency and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure® North Jersey Affiliate have collaborated for 13 years to educate and screen vulnerable teens and women in Sussex County and northern Warren County about the dangers of breast cancer.   In addition to offering free mammograms to hundreds of eligible women each year, the non-profit agency conducts extensive outreach to middle schools, high schools, colleges, social service organizations, and community groups, educating participants about the importance of routine preventative mammograms in detecting breast cancer.  Since the program's inception, breast health education and instruction in breast self-examination has reached more than 70,000 women and girls.

During her presentations at local schools, Project Self-Sufficiency Breast Health Educator Haley McCracken offers statistics about breast cancer, reviews risk factors and discussed the importance of preventive measures such as mammograms, clinical breast exams and self-exams.  She notes the significance of reaching girls during their adolescence.  “It is important for young women to know what is normal for their bodies because as we age, the risk of developing breast cancer increases.  If there is an abnormality down the line, they will know.”  Haley will be visiting a number of local middle schools, high schools and colleges within the next few weeks, including Kittatinny, Newton High School, North Warren Regional, Vernon High School, Sussex County Community College and Warren County Community College.

Laura Pachnos, a student at North Warren Regional High School in Blairstown, recently attended the presentation about breast cancer given by Project Self-Sufficiency.  Laura was shocked to learn that breast cancer can strike men, as well as women.  “It doesn’t matter who you are, or what gender you may be,” noted Laura, “Everyone is susceptible.”

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Breast cancer strikes more than 211,000 women each year, and in 2009, the year that the most recent statistics are available, more than 40,000 women died as a result.  Breast cancer is often a silent disease, with virtually no symptoms, but it is often completely curable if diagnosed in its early stages.  The majority of those diagnosed with breast cancer each year have no family history of the disease, making it all the more important for women to get an annual mammogram.   According to data compiled recently by the Komen for the Cure® North Jersey Affiliate, almost 33% of women over the age of 40 who reside in Sussex County have not had a mammogram in the past year, a percentage which is marginally better than some of the other counties in the agency’s 9-county service area in northern New Jersey.  However, Sussex County has the highest incidence of incurable breast cancer in the state, primarily because the cancer is not being detected at its earliest, most curable, stage.  The average 5-year mortality rate across all ethnic groups in Sussex County is 33.4%, almost 7 percentage points higher than the 9-county average of 26.5%. 

Early detection is essential in the fight against breast cancer; the survival rate for women who detected breast cancer in its earliest stages has reached 98%.  A mammogram is 85% - 90% effective at detecting breast cancer.  Mammograms may detect breast cancer up to two years before they can be felt through clinical or self-examinations.  Recent studies have shown that mammography can reduce the chances of death from breast cancer by 30%.  Early diagnosis is the key to a cure, and urging women to get a mammogram can be the difference between life and death. 

The “Mammograms Save Lives” campaign emphasizes the importance of an annual mammogram in the fight against breast cancer.  The public relations effort is sponsored jointly by Project Self-Sufficiency, Intercar Mercedes Benz, Sussex Honda, the Sussex County Breast Health Task Force, the Sussex Warren Chronic Disease Coalition and the New Jersey Herald.

“Project Self-Sufficiency is proud to partner with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure® North Jersey Affiliate in the fight against breast cancer,” noted Deborah Berry-Toon, Executive Director of Project Self-Sufficiency.  “We are also delighted to be collaborating with Intercar Mercedes Benz, Sussex Honda, the Sussex County Breast Health Task Force, the Sussex Warren Chronic Disease Coalition, and the New Jersey Herald to promote the Mammograms Save Lives campaign throughout the area.   The idea is simple, but the message can change lives.  A mammogram truly can mean the difference between life and death for many women.”

The “Mammograms Saves Lives” campaign runs counter to the guidelines issued by the United States Preventive Services Task Force in November, 2009, which suggested that women ages 50-74 receive a mammogram every 2 years, rather than annually as previously recommended, and recommended against encouraging women to perform monthly self-exams.  These revised guidelines were not supported by physicians, advocacy groups, the American Cancer Society or the general public.  Local breast surgeon Dr. Michelle O’Shea argues, “As a member of the county task force and a breast surgeon, I was shocked when I heard the new guidelines.  As a breast surgeon, I see the benefits of a screening mammogram, which finds cancer before it can be felt.  I also see that approximately one-third of breast cancer occurs in women under the age of 50, and the majority of breast cancer in women under the age of 40 is found during a breast self-exam.  I always emphasize that no woman should fear mammogram findings, because if cancer is detected on mammogram it is found as early as possible and the prognosis is excellent.”

In addition to offering free mammograms to eligible women, Project Self-Sufficiency participates in the annual Tie-a-Ribbon campaign, festooning Sussex County municipalities with thousands of pink ribbons during the month of October to highlight the importance of early detection in the fight against breast cancer.  The agency also sponsors a team in the annual Race for the Cure on behalf of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure® North Jersey Affiliate.  The next race will be held in May, 2014.  Project Self-Sufficiency will be offering free mammograms at the agency on Thursday, January 30th, from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.  For information about the breast health program at Project Self-Sufficiency, to schedule a visit by a breast health educator, or to make a donation in support of the program, call 973-940-3500, or visit

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