Paint the Mountains Pink
It's not just Valentine's Day that's turning things pink around Sevier County these days. It's a new campaign to help provide mammograms to uninsured women and to teach the importance of early detection when it comes to breast cancer.
The Paint the Mountains Pink campaign kicked off on Feb. 1 as a fundraiser overseen by a group of women — and a few men — whose goal is to improve the health of Sevier County women, said Emily Kile, who co-chairs the Paint the Mountains Pink team with Linda Ogle.
The need for such a program is evident in the statistics. Sevier County ranks near the bottom — 94 out of 95 counties — for the number of uninsured women — one in five county women is uninsured. Nationwide, 20 percent of women are uninsured, and of those, two out of three need medical care but don't get it due to the expense. The average cost of a mammogram for someone without insurance is $300.
The benefits of a mammogram are indisputable. They find 85-90 percent of breast cancers and can detect cancers two years before detection by a self-exam. Kile, a 19-year breast cancer survivor, was diagnosed after a mammogram.
Ogle said she hated to hear about the low state ranking. She and Kile both jumped at the chance to Paint the Mountains Pink when they were approached by officials at LeConte Medical Center.
Amanda Paletz, marketing and communications manager at LeConte, said Phil Carney of the hospital's diagnostic imaging department first came up with the idea.
"He's seen the need for it and he has a passion for it," Paletz said of Carney, who lost the youngest of his four sisters to the disease when she was 47 years old. He said he got the idea after seeing signs all around Johnson City supporting East Tennessee State University.
"The more I thought about, the more I thought, man, we could do something like that here," Carney said, adding the staff in his department helped with coming up with the Paint the Mountains Pink idea.
"He was ready to go to his garage and start painting signs and getting them out there," Debbie Dowling, executive director of the Dr. Robert F. Thomas Foundation, said of Carney's enthusiasm.
They then recruited Kile and Ogle. "We knew that there were two women in the community who could tell us right away whether it had potential or not and whether it deserved the amount of excitement we had for it," Dowling said.
After hearing Carney's presentation, Ogle said they were "ready immediately to start. Phil inspired me and informed me that day."
"As soon as we heard this, it clicked," Kile said. "We loved it. I could just envision these gorgeous mountains painted pink."
Wanting to make sure they began it the right way, Paletz said they invited a number of people in the community to a luncheon in mid-January to tell them about the project. Kile's daughter, Jaclyn Kile, spoke to the group about how a mammogram helped detect a tumor that could have led to cancer had it not be found and removed in its early stages.
After the presentation, those in the attendance were offered the chance to opt out of the project.
"But no one did," Ogle said, adding she was impressed with how the group came together for a common cause. "Everyone is excited about it."
The first phase of the fundraiser is the selling of yard signs for $100 each and a window decal for $20. In the hospital gift shop they are also selling items such as scarves, vests and tote bags bearing the logo.
Another phase will include the Thomas Foundation's annual Evening of Elegance ball; the theme this year will be Paint the Mountains Pink and will partially benefit the fundraiser. The team plans other fundraisers.
The goal is to have an application process in place by March 1, where uninsured women in the county can seek assistance in paying for a mammogram. The standard one-page application will ask only for information to confirm residency and financial need, Paletz said. They hope to distribute application forms at the health department, Mountain Hope Good Shepherd Clinic, local physician offices, LeConte Medical Center and online.
They hope to start providing the mammograms by April 1. The number provided will be determined by how much money is raised, Dowling said. If the fund is ever too low, applicants will be placed on a waiting list.
The team set a $30,000 goal for their first six weeks of fundraising. That would pay for 100 mammograms.
"We need to show the women in Sevier County that we care about them, and this is for Sevier County women," Kile said. "All the money stays here."
But what if one of those mammograms comes back positive? Paletz said there will be steps in place to pay for further exams through organizations such as the Tennessee Breast and Cervical Center. Should a cancer diagnosis be confirmed, help will be available to apply for assistance through TennCare.
Another goal of the campaign is educating all women on the importance of early detection. Even women who have insurance, Carney said, need to have annual exams once they reach 40. It's not uncommon for some of those diagnosed with cancer to be women who've never had a mammogram before or who didn't come in on a regular basis.
The Paint the Mountains Pink campaign will be a continuing one, with money raised year-round. To that end, the team is brain-storming ideas. One is to choreograph a Pink Glove Dance in hopes of earning $10,000 for the charity.
More information can be found at the www.lecontemedicalcenter.com/pink (an independent Paint the Mountains Pink website page is under construction) or the team's Facebook page, www.facebook.com/PaintTheMountainsPink. Paletz encourages those who purchase yard signs or other products to post their photos on the Facebook page. Donations can also be made online.
Anyone interested in joining the Paint the Mountains Pink team can call Dowling at 446-9627. The next meeting is in March.