No woman should have to put off an important breast cancer screening due to finances or lack of time. That’s the belief that drives the volunteers behind Francine’s Friends. The community organization provides mobile mammograms to women in Fort Wayne and surrounding counties.
Francine’s Friends is part outreach organization and part memorial. Longtime community volunteer and beloved friend Francine Schubert, lost her battle with breast cancer in 2002. Following her death, several of her friends came together to determine the best way to honor Francine’s spirit and drive. The decision was made to provide an opportunity for every area woman to receive mammography services, reducing breast cancer deaths through early detection.
Since its founding in 2005, the organization’s goal has been to establish a mobile mammography unit to serve every woman in Allen County and the surrounding area who might otherwise not receive a screening mammogram and follow-up care. The coach visits churches, businesses and other locations to bring this life-saving service to as many women as possible. Board-certified breast-imaging radiologists from Fort Wayne Radiology interpret the exams.
And this is all made possible through a collaborative effort between local partners Breast Diagnostic Center, Parkview Hospital and Francine’s Friends. The Breast Diagnostic Center handles the operations; Parkview Hospital serves as the scheduling arm and liaison and Francine’s Friends raises the funds. Marita Dwight-Smith is the Breast Diagnostic Center’s director.
“To us, the mobile coach is a part of our department,” she said. “We need to look at the coach the same way as our clinical center.”
That means women are given the same care and attention as they would in the office and are referred to other clinicians for diagnostic screenings if necessary. According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer ranks second among cancer deaths in women. Death rates from breast cancer have steadily decreased in women since 1990. These decreases are due to a combination of earlier detection and improved treatment.
Early detection is the first line of defense against breast cancer, according to Dwight-Smith. As more and more women are uninsured and underinsured, this service has become even more critical to saving lives, she said.
For volunteer and annual luncheon co-chair Sharon Simmons, this cause is personal. She was diagnosed in 1991 with invasive carcinoma. She remembers it being a scary time in her life, but she found the silver lining. “I met a lot of wonderful women (in treatment),” she said.
Following a lumpectomy, 6 weeks of chemotherapy and 5 years of an oral estrogen pill, she made a “hard comeback,” as she put it. Now in remission for several years, she’s had some time to reflect on the experience. “Here I am today,” she said. “It’s almost like it happened to another person. My life is so different.”
Simmons consider herself a lucky woman and gives back through her involvement with Francine’s Friends. Specifically, she helped organize the Francine’s Friends Captains’ Table Luncheon to be held July 28 at Sycamore Hills Golf Club. Then just 3 months later, the 12th annual “Celebrating Champions” Lunch with Friends will take place on Oct. 14 at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.
For more information about Francine’s Friends and to view the mobile coach schedule, visit francinesfriends.org. To schedule a mammogram, call 260.483.1847. Appointments preferably should be scheduled prior to the date. Walk-in openings are available depending on schedule.