Fletcher hails early screening programs

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

ALBANY, Ga. -- When Diane Fletcher arrived in Albany in August of 2005 as the new CEO of the Southwest Georgia Cancer Coalition, the organization had just one full-time employee and was using purchased stock pictures for its brochures and website.

How times have changed.

"We're actually doing things now," Fletcher told the Dougherty County Rotary Club Tuesday at Doublegate Country Club.

Today, the Southwest Georgia Cancer Coalition has 12 employees who blanket 31 Southwest Georgia counties with a vision to eliminate the burden of cancer in the region.

"Almost everyone in Southwest Georgia has been touched by cancer," Fletcher said. "We are the only collaborative cancer organization that serves only the people of the region. Every dollar donated to us remains right here.

"We don't provide cancer treatment, other direct patient services or individual financial aid. However, we do refer individuals to our partner organizations that provide patient and family care services."

Fletcher said the organization fills gaps by providing cancer resources that may not currently be available in the region.

The coalition partners with hospitals, public health departments, universities and community groups to give residents and health care professionals increased access to cancer prevention, screening, education, research and treatment.

One of the Cancer Coalition's crowning jewels is its Community Cancer Screening Program, which Fletcher said is being looked at as a model program and was begun in Terrell County in 2006.

"At the time Terrell County had the highest mortality rate from colorectal cancer in the country," Fletcher said. "We launched an aggressive screening program. One-third of patients we screened had abnormalities. The general average is 5 to 10 percent, but we were finding 30 percent with high-risk polyps.

"It costs around $2,000 to have a polyp removed, but nearly $200,000 to treat colorectal cancer. Terrell County no longer leads the nation in colorectal mortality."

Fletcher says her organization's goal is simple.

"We look forward to the day when Southwest Georgia is not known for its suffering from cancer," she said, "but rather for how well we have conquered cancer."