Project Self-Sufficiency was recently awarded funding by the Komen for the Cure® North Jersey Affiliate to continue breast cancer awareness outreach, education and screening programs for Sussex County-area women and teen girls for the 14th consecutive year.  With the renewed funding, the agency will offer free mammograms six times a year, and continue to offer breast health education at area high schools, middle schools, colleges and civic groups, while coordinating numerous community events to promote awareness of the importance of early detection in combating breast cancer.

“Project Self-Sufficiency is proud to have spearheaded the Sussex County Breast Health Awareness Project for 13 years, successfully coordinating a community-wide effort providing breast health screening, awareness and education,” noted Deborah Berry-Toon, Project Self-Sufficiency’s Executive Director.   During that time, the agency has provided more than 750 free mammograms to Sussex County-area women, coordinated 800 community events, and provided breast health education to over 70,000 women and teen girls.  “We are most proud of the fact that our efforts have assisted in the full circle of care for 31 women who screened positive for breast cancer,” added Deborah Berry-Toon.  “We know that mammograms save lives, and we are proving it right here in our own community.”

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%. 

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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. 

In its 2011 Community Profile, Komen for the Cure® North Jersey Affiliate identified several groups who were more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, including low-income women, ethnic minority groups, less educated women, the unemployed and undocumented women.  “Project Self-Sufficiency strives to be diverse and inclusive, and our breast health programs focus on low-income women, students in high school and college, the uninsured, African Americans and Latinas, previously-incarcerated women, and those lacking sufficient resources for transportation,” remarked Project Self-Sufficiency Breast Health Program Coordinator Haley Ward.  “We are also working closely with local faith-based organizations, social service agencies and health care providers in our area to make sure that local women are aware of the services we offer, and that those women who are positively diagnosed receive the follow-up services they require.”

To increase awareness of the importance of early detection in fighting breast cancer, Project Self-Sufficiency initiated the Mammograms Save Lives public relations campaign several years ago.  The wide-ranging program includes fliers, billboards, public service announcements and monthly profiles of Sussex County breast cancer survivors in the New Jersey Herald.  The agency works closely with a variety of health care providers including Summit Breast Care, LLC, St. Clare’s Hospital, and Newton Medical Center to provide follow up services to women in need.  Free mammograms and pap tests are also available through the New Jersey Cancer Education and Early Detection (NJCEED) program at Saint Clare’s Hospital in Sussex.  Follow-up diagnostics, including additional mammography views, breast ultrasounds, and biopsies are available to women who are screened at Project Self-Sufficiency.  In addition, Newton Memorial Hospital provides free mammograms for women who qualify through the Newton Memorial Hospital Foundation’s “Mammograms Save Lives” program. 

With the renewed funding, Project Self-Sufficiency hopes to expand the Mammograms Save Lives program to create a network of community volunteers to help distribute fliers and spread the word about the importance of early detection in fighting breast cancer.  The agency’s Breast Health Educator will offer presentations to local schools, civic organizations, faith-based groups, women’s groups, businesses, youth groups and other interested entities.  Support groups will be established for those who have received positive diagnoses, and survivors will be invited to attend annual celebrations and participate in one-on-one consultations.  Transportation assistance, wigs, prostheses and hats will be available to women in need.

“Project Self-Sufficiency is fortunate to be collaborating with several local organizations which are equally as committed to spreading the message that Mammograms Save Lives,” noted Haley Ward.  “We are proud to be partnering with Newton Medical Center, St. Clare’s Hospital, NJ CEED, Sussex County Public Health Nursing, the Sparta Cancer Center, and the Sussex/Warren Regional Chronic Disease Coalition.  We are also grateful to the New Jersey Herald for publishing a profile of a local breast cancer survivor each month.”

Free mammograms will be offered to underinsured and uninsured women over the age of 40 on Thursday, September 12th, between 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. at Project Self-Sufficiency.  To schedule a free mammogram, or to inquire about scheduling a free breast health education presentation, call 973-940-3500.  To learn more about the breast health education programs at Project Self-Sufficiency, visit