Founder of breast cancer research program awarded grants for screening and support

Rebekah Maple

Amount received in last two years exceeds $116,000

Many women walk for the cure. Dianne Kerr does that – and more.

Last year, Kerr, associate professor of Adult Counseling Health and Vocational Education, applied for a grant from the Northeast Ohio Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure and received more than $40,000. When she applied again this year, she was granted more than $76,000.

“It’s a great public service and we’re glad to have Kent’s name on it to do that kind of thing,” Kerr said. “That’s part of what Kent does – community engagement. We hear a lot about the big research grants, but don’t hear a lot about the smaller community grants.”

Kerr said something told her to apply, so she did. She teaches a women’s health issues course and said she has always been interested in helping women with health issues.

Kerr founded the Keep ABREAST (Advocating for Breast Cancer Education and Screening Tests) program last year to provide Portage County women with a support group and free mammogram screenings. This year, she teamed up with Kent State’s Student Recreation and Wellness Center and added a walking program called SurviveHERS.

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, survivors join together to walk for their health. Kerr said the women are offered incentives for joining SurviveHERS, such as prizes including survivor T-shirts and free memberships to the rec center.

She said research has found that exercise helps prevent breast cancer, so she believes the walking group is something that could prevent a reoccurrence.

The program will provide 15 survivors with free memberships to the rec center for a year, which can cost almost $600. With the free membership, the women have the freedom to use the entire facility.

The Keep ABREAST program works in conjunction with Kent Imaging, the Portage Community Health Center and the Mammovan, a mobile mammography unit that operates out of Youngstown.

Last year, only the van was used. However, with all three services this year, there is room for many more women. Kerr said their main goal is to get 200 women screened, and they have already done an estimated 40 as of April 1 as well as two ultrasounds for mammograms that needed further follow-up.

To qualify for the screenings, women must be more than 40 years old and haven’t had a mammogram in at least one year.

Kerr said she receives a lot of help from graduate assistant Gina Ross. She said Ross distributes flyers, makes Mammovan appointments and handles most of the public relations matters.

“Dr. Kerr is very passionate about this cause,” Ross said. “Getting women screened is the main concern.”

Although getting mammograms is a concern for women physically, the breast cancer support group takes pride in educating women about the factors of breast cancer and giving them time to speak out emotionally.

“Some of these women are undergoing chemo, have lost their hair and physically are in a bad way,” Kerr said. “The first thing they say is ‘I feel blessed.'”

Kerr said she is not a trained counselor, therefore, she is not qualified to run a support group. Instead, a few Kent State counseling students with master’s or doctorate’s facilitate the group.

As one of the student group leaders, community counseling major Jeanette McGee met with the women every other Tuesday for two semesters while gaining hours for her program’s practicum.

“The women are fantastic, (and) they have a wonderful story of survival,” said McGee. “Just being in the room with them was very empowering.”

She said they cover topics such as nutrition and exercise.

“Spiritually these women are so very strong,” McGee said. “Usually the group pretty much ran itself.”

Kerr said the students have been gracious enough to say they would continue the group without funding.

She said about $12,000 of the grant’s money goes to mammogram screenings and the rest is used for advertising, personnel, gym memberships and follow-up appointments for the women. Any money that is not used goes back to Komen.

“It’s a whole continuum of care,” Kerr said. “Susan G. Komen is the biggest grassroots nonprofit (organization) in the world, and it all started with a woman promising her sister that she would end breast cancer forever.”

Contact medicine reporter Rebekah Maple at [email protected].