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New statewide campaign to raise awareness about breast cancer

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Breast cancer survivors shared their stories Wednesday and expressed their gratitude for a new campaign that will help spread awareness about breast cancer screenings for women of all ages.

Some of those survivors were as young as 19 years old when they were diagnosed.

Lauren Gritt, 20, of Point Pleasant, is part of the campaign.

“I think if I can advocate for younger girls who might be my age or younger, I can save a life,” Gritt said.

The West Virginia Breast Health Initiative (WVBHI) was awarded a $100,000 grant from the Highmark West Virginia Charitable Fund for Health Wednesday. The funds will go to help get the word out about breast cancer screenings to West Virginia communities which have statistically lower breast health screening rates and available breast health services.

A statewide public awareness campaign, the “Here’s the Memo. Get your Mammo” media plan program is set to remind everyone about these breast health screenings through attention-getting broadcasts across radio, TV, and billboards, as well as other ways to help continue the promotion of the services that WVBHI offers.

The executive director of Highmark WV Charitable Fund for Health, Cathy McAlister said it’s a timely and much-needed campaign to launch across the state.

“We have found over the last few years that women, probably throughout the pandemic and that sort of thing, have not been on the regular cadence they normally would to have their screenings,” McAlister said. “So, this campaign is going to be something that will spur those women on.”

WVBHI Executive Director Donna DeHart said that many people face challenges to get breast health services in West Virginia based on income and accessibility. The campaign was chosen to specifically reach around 12 counties in the state where there are the highest rate of late breast cancer diagnosis and where there are the most African American women that do not have health insurance.

DeHart hopes that the initiative will make getting a mammogram a part of an everyday conversation.

“You’re driving home with your wife or daughter and you see a billboard or you hear a PSA on the radio, you know, ask, ask your friend, ask your mom, ask your aunt, ‘Have you gotten your mammogram?’ Ask your wife, ask your husband if you’ve felt anything unusual,” DeHart explained.

Charleston resident SaQuaia Walker is another young survivor of breast cancer that is a part of the campaign. She was diagnosed at the age of 29. Walker feels as though the initiative is important, because, breast cancer is a fight that none wants to go through alone.

“Even though you’re not the only person in the world, you feel like you’re on an island by yourself,” Walker said. “I was really grateful that I could be placed on a path to meet other survivors, through joining support groups on social media, things like that, that really made a difference for me.”

Along with media broadcasts, volunteers with the initiative will travel around the state with a tent to deliver resources and partner with other statewide organizations to help promote the effort. DeHart adds that it’s a mission that takes the help of many.

“I’m the only staff person, everyone else is volunteer, from the whole state. Board members, survivors, they all volunteer for this, I couldn’t do this by myself, I stand on the shoulders of giants in there,” said DeHart.

The breast health initiative will also hold their largest and only fundraiser, Race for the Ribbon on May 6 along Kanawha Boulevard in Charleston. It will help to fund the surge of mammograms and breast health that they are trying to get started across the state.

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