Stella Hawk did not believe the first doctor who told her that a lump in her breast was benign, so she sought a second opinion.

The 15-year-plus breast cancer survivor is glad she did.

“I just strongly urge all women to do monthly self breast exams and to get regular mammograms,” the Grafton resident said. “It really makes a difference. The earlier it’s caught, it’s better.”

Getting health check-ups will be easier this week during Women’s Health Awareness Day, which will be held from 4-8 p.m. Friday at Fairmont General Hospital.

Hawk belongs to the Marion County Breast Cancer Coalition, which has produced an annual event that has been expanded into this year’s inaugural day devoted to various aspects of women’s health.

“Cervical cancer has increased, and colorectal and skin cancers are increasing,” said Betty Markovich, cancer registrar at FGH. “Breast cancers are kind of stabilizing — people have been getting them diagnosed earlier. But we still don’t want to forget about breast cancer.”

Even though 24 appointments for free Pap smears and breast exams have been filled, women who attend the event still can take a variety of tests, including bone density, blood sugar, body fat index, blood pressure, skin cancer screenings and fecal occult blood strips.

They also can learn about nutrition, exercise, smoking cessation and cancer.

“It’s all free,” Markovich said. “People can just come in and go through and get them done at any time during the four-hour event.”

The health fair has garnered support from the entire community, from business sponsors and the Marion County Commission to the Marion County Transit Authority, which will pick up participants at four locations at specific times on Friday, take them to the hospital, and then take them home.

Pick-up locations include Unity Terrace, 5:10 p.m.; East View, 5:20 p.m.; Marion Unity, 5:22 p.m. and Arbors on Cleveland Avenue at 5:25 p.m. The bus then leaves from FGH at 7 p.m.

“We have two billboards up in Fairmont and we had 900 pamphlets mailed out to certain households,” Markovich said. “We’re kind of counting on 100 to 150 people.”

Also, people have called to make appointments for the Pap smears and breast exams even after the existing time slots were filled.

“We can’t change that,” Markovich said. “We only have so many medical people involved to help and limited space to do that.”

During the event, a tape featuring four breast cancer survivors will play on a loop, and door prizes will be given out, Markovich said.

Hawk, who had a modified radical mastectomy after her diagnosis, enjoys working with both the Marion County Breast Cancer Coalition and FGH, where she had her treatment.

“Having had so much cancer in my family, if I can be involved and encourage just one woman to do her monthly breast exams and get early screenings, it’s been worth it,” she said.

“I feel like it was important to give back for everything I received.”

For more information about Women’s Health Awareness Day, call 367-7171.

E-mail Mary Wade Burnside at mwburnside@timeswv.com.

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