Terrebonne cancer center urges community to support cause

October is typically a month devoted to raising awareness of breast cancer, but Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center at Terrebonne General Medical Center is expanding the initiative by going pink in support of all cancers and raising money to help patients fight the disease.

Through the Geaux Pink program, hosted at the five Mary Bird Perkins locations across Louisiana, local businesses and groups are encouraged to incorporate the color, symbolic not only of breast cancer, but of compassion for others, into activities, special items and discounts to raise money for the Houma-based cancer center. Those interested in hosting an event during the money can sign up at the center’s website. More than 80 programs are currently scheduled and groups may add programs to take place any time during October.

“Geaux Pink is an important awareness and fundraising program because it encourages the community to get involved and join in the fight against cancer,” Catherine Weidert, communications coordinator for the original Mary Bird Perkins location in Baton Rouge, said. “Participants can organize a fun pink activity at home, school or office with proceeds benefiting Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center at TGMC and directly impact cancer patients and their families in the local community.”

Money raised from this program goes toward supporting early detection and screening programs, services essential to the center’s work, Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center at TGMC Director Melanie Guilbeaux said. Much of what is raised goes toward free screenings the hospital provides throughout the year with its mobile medical clinic, the Early Bird.

In 2014, more than 1,400 people without insurance were reached in the community and of those, 150 people were scheduled for a follow-up because of suspicious findings during screenings, according to Kellie Walters, marketing and planning coordinator. More than 20 cancer cases were diagnosed because of those screenings, she said.

Money also allows the center to assist in the day-to-day aspects of fighting cancer, from getting to the hospital to living a healthy lifestyle.

“It goes toward transportation assistance if [patients] have trouble getting here for their appointments,” Guilbeaux explained. “Finances are always challenging for everybody. When you get a diagnosis of cancer, there’s that extra burden and you’ve got more hospital and medical bills coming in … If they qualify for medication assistance, we help with that. We also help with nutritional supplements. While you are going through cancer, it’s important to keep your body nourished and have the right nutrition so that you can fight not only the cancer cells, but the treatment kind of wears you down.”

The center also assists, when possible, with more unconventional burdens, typical finances that may be more difficult to pay for when faced with a cancer diagnosis.

“We help people sometimes with insurance premiums or their electricity bill,” Guilbeaux said. “They have to qualify for it and show justification for that, but we help patients break down barriers to treatments so that they come to treatments. What is most important is that they get treated. We have had people say, ‘I can’t afford it. I’m just going to live with my cancer until it takes me,’ and we hate to see that happen.”

Guilbeaux, an Iowa native and cancer survivor herself, has only been with the hospital for about a year and a half. She said she is incredibly inspired by the support of the community, something she has not experienced in her previous positions with other cancer centers across the country.

“I went to St. Francis [De Sales School] last year to accept their check and the kids were so inspiring,” she said. “These were little kids and they knew they were working for a good cause and they had family members that had had cancer. They paid $1 I think for every pink item they wore. They were so excited. I got teary-eyed that day because those kids were so proud of themselves and they should be … There is something very special about Houma and this tri-parish area. I’ve really never seen so much support for a cancer center and that’s exciting.”

To create or learn more about Geaux Pink events, visit marybird.org/tgmc/geaux-pink.