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Healthcare veteran nurtures seeds of change

Avon GrantBreast health disparity strengthens Methodist’s bonds with cancer partners

After more than 40 years in healthcare, Carole Dickens, Congregational Health Network (CHN) Navigator at Methodist Healthcare, still remembers the wisdom her mother shared with her while she was in nursing school.

“She said, ‘If you can’t be compassionate when you see that person in the bed, if you can’t be kind, you need to come home. Or you need to get into something else.’”

Carole listened and her compassion has been a gift to decades of patients and an example for decades of students. And today it’s a boon to a group of initiatives aimed at improving breast health for women across Memphis—which turns out to be anything but easy.

According to a recent Avon Grant study of the 25 largest U.S. cities, Memphis has the largest racial disparity in breast cancer mortality rates. What could be seen as just another “worst of” ranking for Memphis is being viewed as an opportunity for study, learning and—hopefully—healing.

Avon Foundation—meet Memphis

Methodist was recently awarded a $45,000 grant from the Avon Foundation to study the disparity. When you consider Methodist’s growing partnerships with The West Clinic and The University of Tennessee Health Science Center, the grassroots reach of the Congregational Health Network (CHN) and Carole Dickens leading the way, you’ve got to think that study is just the beginning.

Carole manages the connection between the CHN and The West Clinic and visits congregations to present education seminars and arrange mammograms and other screenings for low-income women.

Dr. Kurt Tauer, Chief of Staff at The West Clinic, says the Methodist-West-UTHSC partnership is providing the best, most compassionate cancer care available for patients—without having to leave Memphis. He recently taught a course for liaisons of CHN congregations and knows first-hand how powerful and effective churches can be in the quest to provide large communities with good healthcare information.

“We've been able to deliver great clinical care in Memphis for a long time, but our partnership with Methodist allows us to take it to a new level,” he said. “The CHN is really an excellent network and it’s an opportunity we’ve never had before.”

Dr. Lee Schwartzberg, Chief of the Hematology and Oncology Division at UT and Senior Partner and Medical Director at The West Clinic, has high hopes for the work taking place to help women.

“The Avon Grant allows us to start to really get into what is causing this disparity,” he said. “Once we understand what's causing the disparity, we're going to fix it.”

“It’s coming. I have to believe that.”

Carole’s passion for healthcare education and memory of her mother reminding her to be kind is what keeps her going—that and her strong faith.

“It's my faith that tells me it's going to work out,” she said. “It's going to take a while, and I may not see it. But it's coming. I have to believe that.”

Photo: Dr. Lee Schwartzberg, Carole Dickens, Dr. Kurt Tauer