Battle against cancer endures

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

ALBANY, Ga. -- Ten years ago, Georgia committed to fund new and aggressive cancer control efforts and issued a call to action -- ultimately leading to the birth of the Southwest Georgia Cancer Coalition.

The coalition was created by the region's four cancer centers, as well as local businesses, community leaders and concerned residents for the purpose of reducing the suffering from cancer in the area. One of the leaders in this endeavor has been former Decatur County

Commissioner Glenda Battle, chair for the coalition's board of directors.

One of the founding board members for the coalition, Battle came on in January 2003.

"At the time, I was still an elected official," said Battle, who works as an emergency center nurse at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. "They wanted someone with local connections as an elected official. That's how I got involved.

"They first approached me and told me what Southwest Georgia Cancer Coalition was."

Battle, now a Lee County resident, likens the coalition's mission to that of consolidation.

"It's hard to merge counties together on issues," she said. "For all the cancer centers to come together was impressive to me."

The four cancer centers in the coalition's 31-county region are the Phoebe Cancer Center in Albany, the Lewis Hall Singletary Oncology Center in Thomasville, the Pearlman Cancer Center in Valdosta and Tift Regional Medical Center Oncology Center in Tifton. These are the places that people in Southwest Georgia are likely to go to for cancer treatment, a fact that has served as a motivator for the coalition to raise funds so resources can be expanded at these centers.

"As we continue to grow, one of my goals is that people know the services that each one of the cancer centers provide," Battle said.

Cancer Coalition CEO Diane Fletcher is among those that have hailed Battle's enthusiasm toward the movement to battle cancer locally.

"Glenda Battle has served as a 'voice in the community' for the Cancer Coalition since its inception," said Fletcher, who came to the coalition in August 2005. "She represents rural residents who often face crushing poverty, low literacy, lack of access to health care services and other challenges. Her leadership has guided the Cancer Coalition to prioritize and conduct programs to meet the needs of Southwest Georgia's communities, such as the Community Cancer Screening Program as well as public outreach and educational services.

"The Cancer Coalition is honored to have such a strong public advocate serving as its board chair."

Battle was the 2010 recipient of the Georgia Rural Health Association James Alley Award for Outstanding Service. She is also on the search committee for the next chancellor for the University System of Georgia.

While being a nurse does have something to do with her sense of purpose, she also has some personal connections to the cause. Two of her grandparents died from breast cancer and prostate cancer, and her father is battling prostate cancer.

"I haven't seen as much as some people, but I've seen enough," she said. "I want people to realize the Southwest Georgia Cancer Coalition is here."

The work that Battle does can be all the more inspiring when taking into consideration the impact it has. "In Southwest Georgia, I would think we are in a cancer belt," she said.

One statistic that stands out in particular is the death rate from lung cancer in Miller County, which according to officials from the coalition, is 138 percent higher than the state average. In 2009, more than 15,000 men and women in Georgia were expected to die of cancer. That comes down to two people every hour -- motivation enough to do even more to fight the battle here at home.

"What I hoped we would be able to do (when I came on board) is screen for cancers before it is too late," Battle said. "We are not there yet, but eventually we will get there."

Through the Community Cancer Screening Program, 428 free or low-cost breast, cervical, prostate and colorectal cancer screenings have been provided for uninsured residents in 18 counties in the region.

Unfortunately, screenings are only half the battle -- a fact the Cancer Coalition realizes. This is why the funds and contributions brought into the coalition are also used to work out arrangements for treatment.

"When we find cancers, we are able to work with local physicians to get treatment," Battle said. "People here can't afford to go to Atlanta for treatment. For them to get treatment in Southwest Georgia, it is a plus.

"It's a problem when you have a doctor but don't have the means to get there."

This is a mission the coalition has been able to accomplish primarily through community contributions. During the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2009, the coalition had a revenue of $1,180,474 -- 59 percent of which came from donations. At the same time, the organization had $949,000 in expenses -- 75 percent of which was spent on research, education and outreach programs.

Battle received her nursing degree from Valdosta State College in 1978.

She has worked with Phoebe since 1991, and served as a county commissioner from 1984 until 2008. She was named Decatur County Woman of the Year in 1998 by the Pilot Club and received the Emory Greene Leadership Award in 2002 from the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, the highest honor bestowed upon a county commissioner in the state.