Sitcom is pipeline to cancer hot line Health: 'Murphy Brown' episodes about the disease include a number to call for help, and Maryland women are calling.

October 29, 1997|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,SUN STAFF

A 12-year-old boy called to find out where he could get a mammogram for his mother. An 82-year-old breast cancer survivor called to discuss the surgery she had undergone in her 70s. A woman waiting for the results of her breast biopsy called because she was desperate for some support.

Over the past few weeks, as millions of Americans have watched Murphy Brown struggle with her diagnosis of breast cancer, the Maryland branch of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation has staffed a local hot line for callers wanting to know more about the disease -- and where they can get screened for it.

So far, about 150 people, mostly from Baltimore, have phoned the number broadcast by WJZ-TV Channel 13 during episodes of the "Murphy Brown" show.

"At least 20 calls came from women who couldn't afford mammograms and wanted to know where to go. We referred them to health departments around the state, primarily in Baltimore city," says Cindy Geoghegan, breast cancer survivor and president-elect of the state's chapter of the Komen Foundation.

"Our focus has been to try to reach Maryland's underserved population, the women who don't read brochures and attend health fairs. This is probably the best outreach effort I've participated in. It removed some of the barriers, such as a person's reading level, that can prevent women from getting information. All they had to do was to reach for the phone and we could come into their living rooms."

The expert volunteers who staffed the hot line from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. after three "Murphy Brown" episodes this month -- (last week's callers were referred to the American Cancer Society's hot line) -- were breast surgeons William Dooley, director of the Johns Hopkins Breast Center, and Miles Harrison of Sinai Hospital; radiologists Judy Destouet, Chuck Weiner and Donna Prohazka from Advanced Radiology and Rachel Brem from Johns Hopkins Breast Center; medical oncologist Michael Auerbach of Franklin Square Hospital; nurse practitioner Patti Wilcox and breast cancer survivor and support group founder Marsha Oakley, both from Mercy Medical Center.

Geoghegan was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago at the age of 35. Her cancer was found at an early stage through a routine baseline screening mammogram.

"I've had people walk up to me and say 'I've never met anybody that had cancer that's still alive.' That 'C word' mentality is still pretty big," she says. "I think people are afraid to go for tests like mammograms because they think cancer is a death sentence. "Murphy Brown" is showing that real people get cancer and can still lead normal lives. She's still going to work. Just because she has had cancer, she's not flat out in bed."

Tonight's hot-line service will run from 8: 30 p.m. to 11 p.m. and will use experts at the Komen Foundation's national hot line: 1-800-462-9273. Callers can also use that number for information from 10 a.m. to 5: 30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Or, for local resources, they can call the Maryland Chapter at 410-433-7223.

Tonight's episode of "Murphy Brown" is sponsored by the Ford Motor Company. Ford dealers in the Baltimore area will distribute breast health materials courtesy of WJZ-TV and the Komen Foundation. The Susan G. Komen Foundation is the largest private funder of breast cancer research in the country. Since it was created five years ago, the Maryland chapter has raised more than $1.7 million for outreach and education programs within the state.

Pub Date: 10/29/97

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