As downtown Baton Rouge basked in the sunlight on Saturday, May 14, William and Vicki Sutton were cooling off with Italian ice in between screenings at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center’s Live Well Baton Rouge event. The annual day of wellness includes free cancer screenings and other health resources. The sweet treat may have been perfect on this warm day, but the couple attended the event to take advantage of multiple screenings after a previous Cancer Center proved valuable for William.
Three months before Live Well Baton Rouge, William went to his first-ever community screening event, a partnership between the Cancer Center and Pennington Biomedical Research Center. He recently began feeling an itching sensation on his back between his shoulders. At the February screening, a navigator determined the area that itched wasn’t a problem but noticed a concerning spot nearby and recommended a biopsy.
“When they found it, my thought process was ‘wow, I hadn’t thought that I had anything,’” William recalled.
Biopsy results showed the newly-found spot was melanoma in situ, also known as stage zero melanoma. William was warned that if he didn’t have the area in question removed, it could grow into something worse.
“I consider it a blessing,” William said of the nurse navigator identifying the spot, previously unbeknownst to him.
The screening that caught the skin cancer was of tremendous benefit for the couple, not just because it found the abnormality, but because it was easily accessible and free of charge, as is the case with all Mary Bird Perkins’ Prevention on the Go screenings. This was especially important to William, as he like so many other Americans are without health insurance.
“We would not have been able to get screened otherwise,” William said. “Being on a low-fixed budget and with a lack of insurance, it’s definitely a lifeline.”
With surgery quickly scheduled to remove the melanoma, the pair living in Pride, La. kept their eyes peeled for upcoming Cancer Center community events, now knowing firsthand how vital routine cancer screenings can be. That’s what brought them to Live Well Baton Rouge.
The couple spent several hours at the street fair-style event, taking advantage of several early detection and prevention resources. William signed up for a prostate exam while Vicky took part in biometric screenings and glucose tests provided by Baton Rouge General. She also scheduled a mammogram later this year, when she will be eligible.
At Live Well Baton Rouge, nearly 150 participants received 260 screenings for multiple types of cancer, including breast, prostate, colorectal, and skin cancers, with 13 requiring additional patient navigation. Nearly 48 percent of participants reported never having received a cancer screening.
And like William, 67% of those screened were uninsured.
“William’s case, among countless others over the years, serves as a prime example of why Mary Bird Perkins’ free community cancer screenings, made possible by the generosity of the community, are so crucial,” said Heather Johnson, director, early detection and outreach, Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center. “Through these community events and the Prevention on the Go program, we can provide early detection services to those who might otherwise not have access.”
Ten days after Live Well Baton Rouge, William underwent surgery to remove the melanoma spot. After receiving a pathology report, his doctor said the cancer had become stage two melanoma in the three months between detection and surgery. The original spot had started growing, and had William not had the area, which was about 5 centimeters by 3 centimeters and 3 centimeters in-depth, removed, it may have traveled to his lymph nodes.
“I’m just as happy as I can be right now, William said. “I definitely feel like this saved my life.”
Now, with a clean bill of health, William is focused on keeping it that way. One way he and Vicki plan to do that is to keep up with routine exams and annual screenings through Mary Bird Perkins. He’s also encouraging others in his situation who may be inclined to ignore signs or skip out on cancer screenings due to a lack of insurance to do what he did.
“Absolutely, everyone that is going to be eligible for screenings should take full advantage of these opportunities, William said.
For more information on upcoming screenings in your area, visit www.marybird.com/get-screened.