November 24, 2014  

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Mississippi Cancer Prevention Network Helps Underserved Delta Residents

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Freddie White-Johnson, right, program director of the Mississippi Network for Cancer Control and Prevention, poses with breast cancer survivors Betty Thomas, left, and Wilma Johnson at a Breast Health and Cancer Awareness Event at Monument of Grace Church in Greenwood. (Submitted photo)

Freddie White-Johnson believes that The University of Southern Mississippi’s mission to illuminate and educate young minds is further enriched by its role as a life-saver.

And White-Johnson, program director of the Mississippi Network for Cancer Control and Prevention (MNCCP), will not rest until every underserved Mississippian becomes aware of the measures available in the fight against cancer.

“The University of Southern Mississippi is saving lives through education, outreach and research,” said White-Johnson. “Outreach is one way of building a connection between the institution and the community base. Southern Miss has stepped outside the box into the community to support, promote and link community health workers/advisors, known as natural helpers, to improve the lives of individuals, families and entire communities.”

Formed in 2010, the MNCCP strives to reduce or eliminate disparities in the mortality rates of breast, cervical, colorectal and prostate cancers in Mississippi. To that end, the Network concentrates on cancer awareness, education, research, advocacy and increasing utilization of proven life-saving early detection screenings.

The Mississippi Delta remains the primary target area for White-Johnson and the MNCCP. Currently, the Network has approximately 100 trained community health workers canvassing 19 counties in the Delta. Last month graduation ceremonies were held for the newest batch of community health workers – a group of 19 African American males labeled “Man in Black and Blue Fighting Prostate Cancer.”

Community health advisors/workers provide advice, assistance and action to address problems in their communities. With regard to the MNCCP, these trainees provide assistance in raising awareness about cancer-related health disparities in their communities.

“What Freddie and everyone involved with the MNCCP are doing is truly remarkable and often goes unnoticed,” said Dr. Vafa Kamali, director, University Research Centers and Institutes at Southern Miss. “While this type of research has a significant impact on the health and well-being of many thousand Mississippi residents, we cannot overlook the outreach component of this program. Establishing connections with these communities benefits not only the residents who live there but the university as well.”

White-Johnson also notes that 35 high school students have been trained as junior community health advisors. As a result of their participation, more than 800 women have been identified and referred by the students for assistance with breast and cervical cancer screening.

The Network receives the bulk of its financial support from federal and state grants, as well as contributions from the private sector.

An important off-shoot of the University’s health awareness campaign has been the development of the Fannie Lou Hamer Cancer Foundation, a non-profit organization that offers financial support and other resources to bolster the Network’s efforts. To date, the foundation has raised more than $200,000 to support the cancer education and outreach activities implemented by the MNCCP.

As White-Johnson explains, the Fannie Lou Hamer Cancer Foundation serves as the community engine and Southern Miss operates as the academic engine. Together, they are saving lives and creating healthier communities in Mississippi – particularly in the rural Mississippi Delta.

“As of today we have assisted more than 3,000 women with screenings (breast and cervical),” said White-Johnson. More than 5,000 Mississippians have received direct cancer, nutrition and diabetes education. This year we have assisted more than 400 women in the Mississippi Delta with a mammogram and 11 of them have been diagnosed with stage II, stage III or stage IV breast cancer.”

The MNCCP has formed important partnerships with other agencies/organizations to raise cancer awareness in the Mississippi Delta. Those partners include:

  • The Mississippi State Department of Health
  • The University of Mississippi Medical Center-Cancer Institute
  • Komen for the Cure
  • The Avon Breast Health Outreach Program
  • The Leflore County Board of Supervisors
  • The Sunflower County Board of Supervisors
  • The City of Ruleville
  • Kappa Alpha Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority
  • North Central Mississippi Regional Cancer Center
  • The Greenwood Community and Recreation Center
  • Humphreys County Board of Supervisors
  • WGNG (106.3 FM) radio station
  • Greenwood Commonwealth newspaper
  • Wal-Mart in Greenwood, Cleveland and Clarksdale
  • Bolivar Commercial newspaper
  • Four Delta county school districts
  • Several faith-based organizations, area businesses and medical providers.

White-Johnson acknowledges that many challenges still remain in the ongoing struggle to provide information and services for underprivileged residents of Mississippi. But she is quick to add that significant inroads have been made.

“This type of initiative has made Southern Miss a household name in the Mississippi Delta,” said White-Johnson. “Many high school students from the Delta have enrolled at USM in the health field because of our visibility in the community.

“With ongoing efforts to reach out to the less fortunate and take a hands-on approach to build healthier communities, we continue to look for innovative ways to leave a long-lasting impact in underserved communities throughout the state to reduce the rate of cancer and health disparities.” 

For more information about the Mississippi Network for Cancer Control and Prevention call 662.453.3688 or visit: http://www.usm.edu/research/mnccp