When her stepfather died suddenly in the 1980s, Dr. Patricia Joseph went to the funeral and sat with her distraught mother.
After the funeral, Joseph’s mother told her she thought she had a lump on her side, so Joseph, a physician at the time, examined her mother and had to deliver three quick, but painful words.
“I said, ‘You have cancer.’ I knew right at the start what she had; she had metastatic colon cancer and it was terminal, and I knew at the moment that I diagnosed her what was involved,” Joseph said. “Over the next six months we made the arrangements. She was an absolute amazing trooper.”
Joseph’s mother moved in with her and Joseph’s husband in their Bergen County home, and died while living there. After her death, a number of questions kept running through Joseph’s mind.
“Why isn’t there a cure? Why don’t they have something for this? Why don’t they have a vaccine? Why isn’t this fixed yet?” she said. “Why can’t they do something, and I think that if anyone has lost a loved one, a dear friend, a colleague, you can understand my chagrin at why there wasn’t a solution for this.”
After he mother’s death, Joseph began volunteering with the American Cancer Society (ACS) and realized the error in her line of questioning.
“I am looking at this incorrectly. It’s not why haven’t they done something, it’s why haven’t I done something?” she said. “Why can’t we fix this, and I think that’s the attitude that we need to have here. This is not about what they can do and the research money that they raise and the new things that they figure out. This is about us. What can we do to fight this disease, to get the information, to get to the situation where we never have to say to a loved one, or hear the words ourselves, ‘You have cancer.’”
Joseph is now the director of Breast and Women’s Health Prevention Services at Nyack Hospital and spoke about her experiences with cancer on Wednesday at a kickoff press conference to announce Rockland’s involvement in the ACS’s Cancer Prevention Study 3 (CPS-3). The announcement was hosted by Chairwoman of the Rockland County Legislature Harriet Cornell.
“This is no small study with low impact findings. The last few studies have truly shaped public health as we know it, and had a substantial impact on saving lives through cancer prevention,” said Danielle Heller, regional community mission manager for the ACS. “We are now looking for eligible participants here in Rockland County. However, you do not have to be from Rockland to enroll in this study. Anyone can enroll here in Rockland County if you live in the United States, Puerto Rico or Guam.”
There have been two previous Cancer Prevention Studies conducted by the ACS, one in the 1950s and the other in 1980s.
“Many people know that smoking causes cancer. However, very few people realize that it took 188,000 participants, 22,000 volunteers and three years to determine that,” Heller said. “That was the American Cancer Society’s studies. CPS-1 gave us the link between tobacco and cancer in the 1950s. CPS-2 was done in the 1980s. That gave us the link between obesity and cancer and increased aspirin use and decreased colon cancer rates.”
The current study started in 2006 and the last year they are enlisting participants is 2013, so the upcoming chances to sign up will be the final times to join. Heller said they are looking for 300,000 participants and have about 188,000 signed up as of Wednesday.
They’re looking for people ages 30-65 who have never been diagnosed with cancer, except for basal and squamous cell skin cancer. They want people who will be willing to make a longterm commitment to the study, as participants will have to fill out surveys every two to three years for the next 20-30 years. The surveys collect behavioral, environmental and genetic information, as well as information such as where you live, what you do, vitamins you take, etc.
To sign up, people must go to www.CPS3hudsonvalley.org to sign up for an enrollment date. There are three in Rockland:
- May 7 from 9:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Blue Hill Plaza in Pearl River
- May 14 from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern
- May 16 from 3-7:30 p.m. at Nyack Hospital in Nyack
Heller said they’re looking for more men and people across various racial backgrounds to sign up for the study.
“Cancer affects people differently and we want as diverse a group included in the study as possible,” she said.
Cornell said the ACS contacted her about bringing the study to Rockland, as they’ve worked together in the past, including on a large conference in 1996 on breast cancer prevention.
“I was excited when they called me asking to bring the study here to Rockland,” Cornell said. “Anything we can to to help prevent cancer we should do. It’s a health issue of extraordinary importance.”
Cornell said over the coming weeks, she and the ACS will look for additional ways to get the word out about the survey. Heller said they are also looking for volunteers to help spread the word, whether it’s people who explain everything to their office, people in charge of a local organization, business owners or anyone else.