Masons in Emporia joined 21 other Kansas Masonic Lodges to host a record number of free cancer screenings across the state in 2015.
Nearly 2,000 Kansans were assessed by physicians from University of Kansas Medical Center for their risk of skin and prostate cancer, thanks to the screening events, including more than 115 in Lyon County. Previously, Kansas Lodges hosted an average of five screenings that reached approximately 400 residents each year.
Twenty-two cancer screenings in one year is a record for the Kansas Masons, but it’s not their first trip to the cancer prevention rodeo. In fact, the Kansas Masonic Foundation (KMF) has been supporting cancer prevention and research for more than 40 years. In addition to funding four to five yearly screenings at local lodges since 2003, the KMF created The Kansas Masonic Cancer Institute and invested more than $25 million in health initiatives like the Bob Dole Prostate Cancer Research Fund and the Oncology Nurse Navigator program and a Psychosocial Oncology Endowments at University of Kansas Medical Center.
According to the Foundation’s director of development and programs, Dave Hendricks, the organization underwent a philosophical change under the leadership of a new executive director in 2013. The new director, Bob Shively, wanted to continue to support cancer prevention and research but felt it was important to focus on giving lodges tools for greater visibility in their community. Shively and other KMF leaders decided that increasing cancer prevention programs like the screening events are an effective way to do that, explained Hendricks.
“To help get the word out our Lodge members were busy promoting the event on TV stations, radio shows and in the local newspapers,” said Emporia Mason, John McCracken.
KMF collaborated with Midwest Cancer Alliance (MCA), the outreach network of The University of Kansas Cancer Center, on quadrupling the screenings and coordinating physicians and other staff to assist with the skin and prostate screenings and bone density tests.
“Between March and December of 2015, we traveled, literally, to every corner of Kansas to help local lodges screen residents in their communities,” laughed MCA’s Director of Outreach, Brooke Groneman.
The American Cancer Society reports that 3.5 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer every year. Almost 75,000 of those cancers are melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Data from the Centers for Disease Control indicates that Kansas has higher than average rates of both skin and prostate cancer in the U.S.
Sometimes the Masons who help coordinate their local events end up benefitting from the screening, themselves. In July, Steve Smith was one of the Masons who helped coordinate the first screening the Lodge in Erie, Kan, ever held. 125 participants were seen during the event. As it turned out, both Smith and his wife, Anne, participated and were referred to a local dermatologist for potential skin cancer issues.
“Neither of us ended up with a malignancy but we now know to keep a close watch on certain changes on our skin,” said Smith.
“Helping those we screen gain a better understanding of what is and isn’t normal can make all the difference when it comes to catching skin cancer early,” explained KU Medical Center dermatologist, Ryan Fischer, MD. Fischer added, “That can be especially true in rural areas where there often isn’t a dermatologist within at least 100 miles.”
Don Wheeler, a 33 year Mason and volunteer who has helped set up six cancer screenings over the past few years, was involved in a screening in Uniontown, Kan, in September. The screening took place during Old Settlers Days and more than 100 residents and visitors were screened.
“I am a big advocate for the screenings,” explained Wheeler. “There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s one of the most visible and effective ways our lodges help the community.”
Hendricks noted that the KMF hopes to increase the number of screenings in 2016. “We want to continue to help the lodges provide this free service in as many Kansas counties as possible,” said Hendricks.
“Thanks to the teamwork between our Emporia Lodge members and the folks from KU, we’re proud to say we helped close to 120 area residents learn more about their cancer risks and prevention,” said McCracken.