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Local breast cancer survivor looks at incidence rate of cancer in Truckee

ABHUTCHISON, Sierra Sun

When Jay O’Hanlan went for her mammogram two years ago, she figured it was simply routine and would yield only positive results.

There was no reason to think otherwise.

She has no family history of breast cancer. She is and was a healthy and generally active woman.

But doctors told her she had breast cancer, and it just didn’t seem to make sense.

“I went for my mammogram and was totally blown away,” she said.

O’Hanlan, Director of Information Services at Tahoe Forest Hospital, is a breast cancer survivor. She has been working hard to find increased support for local breast cancer patients as well as try to assess the rate of cancer in the Truckee-Tahoe community.

Recently, O’Hanlan developed a survey for the hospital to look at the incidence rate of cancer in our community, and to attempt to find if there are any common denominators with people in our area getting cancer.

“My gut feeling is that there is an increase in cancer patients locally,” she said. “My gut feeling is we probably have some water issues.”

O’Hanlan has distributed the survey to local doctors offices, and has asked physicians to ask cancer patients to participate. The survey asks:

– What type of cancer do/did you have?

– Describe the severity of the cancer.

– Have any other members of your household been diagnosed with cancer?

– Have any of your pets had cancer? What kind?

– Do you have a family history of cancer? What kind?

– Have you had any other significant medical problems?

– Where have you lived in the last 10 years? Give the area and how many years you live there, starting with your current area.

– Did you eat fish? How often per week? From the Tahoe-Truckee area? Which lakes?

– Did you eat meat? How often? What kinds? How was it prepared?

– Before your diagnosis, did you drink alcohol? What? How many drinks per week?

– What vitamins did you take?

– Have you taken Hormone Replacement Therapy? At what age?

– Have you taken birth control pills? For how long? At what age?

– Age of first pregnancy? Did you breast feed?

– What is your source of drinking water? Tap, filtered or bottled?

– What are your hobbies?

– What is your occupation? Your employer? How many years at this job?

– Have you been in a very frustrating or stressful situation in the last 10 years?

– At what age did you begin having mammograms?

– Do you have any ideas about why you had/have cancer?

She said she has heard from local vets that there is an increased rate of cancer among pets recently.

But she has had a hard time tracking down exact numbers and statistics on cancer patients locally, as many patients travel out of the area for treatment.

“If I can get this survey distributed, then we can have some set numbers to work with,” O’Hanlan said. “I am just hoping to find some common denominators. There are so many things that happen in our environment that we don’t know or make the connection to how it affects us.”

She is looking for common denominators among patients, especially in the areas of environmental factors, diet and stress levels.

“I’m even interested in those patients who have their services outside of the Truckee area,” she said. “My goal is to see if we can prevent illnesses from happening. Mostly I’m just focusing on the cause.”

Getting breast cancer has changed O’Hanlan’s focus in life. She is more appreciative about what she has and dedicated to helping support others in their fight against cancer.

“It made me appreciate life more fully,” she said. “For me it was a good thing.”

O’Hanlan is also working hard with the TFH Community Wellness Center staff to put together a local cancer support group. Most people who are already interested involved with the group are breast cancer survivors, but they are trying to reach all cancer patients and survivors to see what can services can be consolidated.

The support group would help recently diagnosed patients become educated on available resources and hopefully have mentors available to work with patients in dealing with the process of treatment.

O’Hanlan said she was lucky because she when was diagnosed with breast cancer, she worked at the hospital and knew where to go for support and resources. For everyone, a support network isn’t so readily available.

“Part of the reason I am trying to see this support group is because I had really good support from cancer survivors in this community,” she said. “I wanted to be sure that others in this community had that support available also.”

“When you go through the process, it’s nice to have someone to go along with you and help you understand what’s happening,” she added. “When you get that diagnosis, many people are lost and they have no resources. Some people have more access than other and we want to make all of the information out there available in one place.”

The Wellness Center will be the central resource center for patients, where a gamut of research tools and education materials will be easily available and accessible. The wellness center, which opened last year, has Internet access so patients can feel free to research what they want, as well as an extensive library stocked with literature on health and wellness topics. Any member of the community can walk into the resource center at any time to get information on various health topics or speak to someone on the staff.

The next cancer support group meeting is May 15 in the Tahoe Forest Hospital Dietary Conference Room at 5 p.m. Organizers will discuss needs assessments, as well as goals for the group. For information, call O’Hanlan at 582-3494. If you are a cancer patient or surivor and would like to participate in the survey, contact O’Hanlan as soon as possible.

O’Hanlan has been working to help support the Truckee-Tahoe Mt. Fuji Team, which consists of four local members who will join the Breast Cancer Fund’s Climb Against the Odds Mt. Fuji 2000 expedition this August. Windy Smith, Janet Brady and Laurie Martin of Truckee and Lois Fletcher of Incline Village are currently training for the Japan ascent to the summit of the 12,388-foot mountain.

The climb is one of the Breast Cancer Fund’s major fund-raisers devoted to increasing awareness of breast cancer research.

The Truckee-Tahoe team is working locally to raise funds for the climb with a series of events and corporate sponsors. Fifty percent of the funds raised will go directly towards local community breast cancer education, prevention, early detection and treatment support. The other portion of the funds raised supports the team in their climb as well as the Breast Cancer Fund.

O’Hanlan said the excitement and awareness brought on by the expedition has helped raised awareness for breast cancer and importance of prevention and early detection.

“We’re hoping the use that advertising for prevention and early detection. The Mt. Fuji team helps keep in light the whole process as well as raise funds for research,” she said. “We’re real happy that we have representatives for Tahoe Forest Hospital on the Mt. Fuji team. It helps keep the issue on the forefront of everybody’s minds.”

She said times have changed for the better; years ago breast cancer was kept hidden.

“It’s important for people to know that there are other people out there too that have breast cancer,” she said. “People like the Mt. Fuji climbers keep that energy alive in our community and that’s important.”


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