Aroostook County –  A County-wide public service campaign that began a year ago to raise awareness of the importance of early detection and treatment of cancer by profiling the stories of local survivors is expanding in its second year.

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Courage in The County is a collaborative effort of five County organizations – TAMC, Northern Maine Medical Center, Clukey’s Auto Supply, NorState Federal Credit Union and WAGM-TV.  Throughout 2014, the partners featured a cancer survivor monthly in a public service announcement on the CBS and FOX affiliates of northern Maine’s only commercial television station.  Feature length written stories were also distributed to all media in the region.

“What we found when we sat down each month with our courageous County friends and neighbors to share their heroic survivor stories is that their battle against the disease was never fought alone,” said Kerri Watson-Blaisdell, TAMC’s project lead for Courage in The County and producer of the monthly profiles.  “Rather, each and every person we featured spoke at length about the extensive support network of family, friends, medical providers, community support groups and others who helped carry them through and gave them the courage, strength and encouragement they needed.”

When the project partners came together at year’s end to consider moving forward with Courage in The County it became clear, that to truly represent the fight against cancer throughout the region, the scope of the public service campaign needed to expand to capture how diagnosis and treatment of cancer calls upon a larger, community response.  Together, the decision was made to include those who take the journey with individuals who hear the words “you have cancer” and search for their stories along with new survivor stories throughout the new year.

“Whenever someone must be told they have cancer, the ripple effect is felt by many and it begins with the person conveying the message. These three words, you have cancer, will change the life of the patient who hears it, but it is also experienced at so many different levels by others close to the patient: the provider who must look into the patient’s eyes and give the message, the spouse, child or sibling who fears the unknown and the many other lives that may be touched by the potentially life changing events that will unfold in the coming days, weeks, months and sometimes years. The patient receiving a diagnosis of cancer cannot take the journey alone and that is why the support system of a patient is a very real part of the fight against cancer,” said Joanne Fortin, project partner representing NMMC.

As was done last year for survivors, the call is out to the community to nominate individuals to be featured in the Courage in The County profiles on television and in printed stories through 2015.  A new website, still under development, is being created for area residents to submit the names of courageous individuals who have personally faced such a diagnosis or have been a key part of the support network for others.  The nomination form is currently available at www.courageinthecounty.org.

As the site grows, the stories of those featured – both electronic and in print (with photographs) will be posted.  Links to the site and messages encouraging individuals to submit nominees will also soon appear on the websites of all five project partners.

“After reflecting on the Courage in the County campaign for 2014, it was evident that we needed to broaden our scope to include the family and care givers stories as well. Viewers have commented that hearing these stories from the survivors has been very inspirational and has even motivated some to actually see their health care provider for testing. It is our hope that by including stories from all those effected by the diagnosis it will help even more in our community if they or a loved one ever receives those three words, ‘you have cancer’,” said Kelly Landeen, station manager for WAGM-TV.

One of the project partners who knows firsthand the value of a strong support network for anyone facing a cancer diagnosis and treatment is Gail Clukey of project partner Clukey’s Auto Supply.  She is a strong advocate for the public service campaign and the expansion to include those who fight alongside the individuals diagnosed with cancer among those profiled.  Clukey’s late husband, Tom Clukey, passed away in May of 2013 after a courageous and hard-fought battle with cancer.

“Tom received wonderful care from the team at Aroostook Cancer Care,” said Clukey. “They were always upbeat and made the situation so much less stressful on him. They also made things so much easier for me. Their caring, and supportive ways helped me tremendously during the months that Tom was taking chemo and still do today.  Organizations like C-A-N-C-E-R and Bridge to Hope provide so many wonderful services to make life for the patient, who is already going through so much, a little easier.  Profiling heroes, such as these, is exactly what we need to do.”

Expanding the scope of individuals (and even groups) who will be profiled in 2015 is not the only new addition to the Courage in The County initiative.  Project partners are also planning to use the public service announcement campaign to raise awareness of the many activities throughout the region that likewise help draw attention and raise funds to support various cancer causes.

Among the events that will be highlighted through that aspect of the Courage in The County public service campaign includes a first-time County-wide Cancer Conference being planned for spring hosted by all four County hospitals and three regional non-profit groups that provide support for cancer patients: Edgar J. Paradis Cancer Fund (St. John Valley), Caring Area Neighbors for Cancer Education and Recovery – C-A-N-C-E-R (central Aroostook), and Bridge to Hope (southern Aroostook).  Other events to be featured will include the Tribute to Courage Cancer Awareness Walk and Tour de la Vallée in the St. John Valley, and Planet Head Day and the new Colors of Courage event (replacing the Color Me Pink activity hosted in October 2014) both planned for central Aroostook.

“NorState FCU recognizes the significance of community events to help raise awareness and the impact of cancer within our communities and families. Awareness brings light and hope to those who are challenged with cancer or dealing with loved ones who are afflicted. Courage in the County is a cancer awareness campaign, in itself, that puts a face and name to what is real. NorState, along with many other organizations, realize the importance of raising awareness, supporting those efforts and encouraging a positive difference in the fight against cancer,” said Denise Duperre of NorState Federal Credit Union.

The first of the new 2015 Courage in The County profiled honorees will appear on WAGM-TV in February.  Project partners are encouraging community members to submit cancer survivors, caregivers, medical providers, and other individuals who have been impacted by cancer and, most importantly, had a positive impact on those affected by cancer.

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