January 04, 2016
By Laura Long
|Urology resident Michael Aberger. M.D. (right) and Kansas Mason Don Jacka at a cancer screening in Lyndon, Kansas on Dec. 5|
What happens when 22 Masonic Lodges host free cancer screenings across the state of Kansas in less than nine months? You end up with nearly 2,000 Kansans assessed by physicians from University of Kansas Medical Center for their risk of skin and prostate cancer, more than 350 of whom were referred to their local physicians in an effort to prevent a potential health issue spotted during the screening.
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 has been supporting cancer prevention and research for more than 40 years. In addition to funding several yearly screenings at local lodges since 2003, the foundation created The Kansas Masonic Cancer Institute at The University of Kansas Cancer Center and invested more than $25 million in health initiatives, including the Bob Dole Prostate Cancer Research Fund and the Oncology Nurse Navigator program.
According to Dave Hendricks, the foundation's director of development and programs, the organization underwent a philosophical change in 2013 under the leadership of new executive director Bob Shively. Shively wanted to continue support for cancer prevention and research while giving lodges tools for greater visibility in their community. Shively and other foundation leaders believed that increasing cancer prevention programs like the screening events were a great way for lodges to connect with their communities.
The Kansas Masonic Foundation 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 this year, we traveled to just about every corner of Kansas to help local lodges screen residents in their communities," said MCA's director of outreach, Brooke Groneman.
A screening in Fredonia, Kansas, was one of the first held in 2015. Local mason Doug Hawkins said nearly 120 people stopped by for the event in southeast Kansas.
"We got so busy that the docs from KU Medical Center and our local volunteers had to stay longer to help everyone out," said Hawkins. "It was a great way to support the community and give people a better understanding of how Masons give back."
In the fall, the Masons in southwest Kansas held a screening in Stevens County that drew in almost 140 participants, or nearly 5 percent of the total population of the community.
"We had quite a few local folks as well as people from as far as Oklahoma and Colorado," said Hugoton Mason Bruce Bentz.
Sometimes the Masons who help coordinate 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, Kansas, ever held. Doctors saw 125 participants during the event, among them Smith and his wife, Anne. They 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, M.D. "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, Kansas, 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 said the Kansas Masonic Foundation hopes to increase the number of screenings in 2016.
"We want to continue to help the lodges provide this free, life-saving service in as many Kansas counties as possible," said Hendricks.