Cancer Center to Open in Mississippi Delta

Cancer Center to Open in Mississippi Delta
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Freddie White-Johnson (Center) breaking ground in Mississippi
Alexandra Watts

In the Mississippi Delta, only 32 percent of women between ages 65 and 74 get mammograms, and the mortality rate for all cancers in the region is high. MPB’s Alexandra Watts reports on a new center offering support, education and prevention.

On the last day of Breast Cancer Awareness month, the ground is broken for the Fannie Lou Hamer Cancer Foundation Headquarters in Ruleville.

The center will offer education, support, counseling and more to a region where prostate cancer deaths exceed the national average.

Freddie White-Johnson is the founder of the foundation and program director for Mississippi Network for Cancer Control and Prevention at the University of Southern Mississippi.

She says preventive care is an issue for the region.

“If they go and get screened and told they have cancer with no health insurance or no way of paying for this diagnosis,” she said. "It’s hard for a person to try and take on that responsibility and try to have a family. Now, lots of times, people have a choice between getting screened or paying [the] light bill or.. gas bill, of course they are going to choose basic living instead of a screening.”

The center is named after civil rights activist, Fannie Lou Hamer who helped organize Mississippi’s Freedom Summer. In 1977, Hamer died from undiagnosed breast cancer at 59 years old. According to the Mississippi Department of Health, black women are 40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than white women.

Hamer’s niece and adopted daughter, Jacqueline Hamer, was ten years old when Hamer passed away. A cancer survivor herself, she hopes this center can offer comfort to those in the Delta.

“Hopefully we’re going to get to a point where we can have something like that in Mississippi where people can go to one place and have everything done instead of waiting,” she said. “Because you never know…I mean, if you wait two or three months, that far out can do some damage to a cancer patient.”

Construction on the Fannie Lou Hamer Cancer Foundation Headquarters will begin in 2020.