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Check it out!

071913_check_it_outThe prospect of getting a crowd of teenagers to pipe down and focus can be a challenging task.

However, when Jill Mull addresses dozens of 11th- and 12th-grade girls, she says it’s quiet enough to hear a pin drop.

Mull is one of several breast cancer survivors who volunteer to speakin front of female high school audiences as a part of Hadassah of Greater Baltimore’s Check It Out program. In its 19th year, the initiative combines the insights of breast cancer survivors and medical professionals to educate and empower girls to take a proactive approach toward breast cancer prevention.

The innovative program has reached more than 140,000 young women in public, private and parochial schools throughout the Greater Baltimore Metropolitan area. Since 1999, the program has also educated more than 30,000 boys about testicular cancer and self-examination.

On Sunday, July 28, Hadassah will host its annual Check It Out Challenge, a run/walk event that raises funds for the organization and its programs.

Organizers and volunteers alike stress that Check It Out is not intended as a scare tactic. Mull said she emphasizes during her talks that 18-year-olds have a one in 25,000 chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer. However, she does accentuate that the onus ison the girls to know their bodies and alert a doctor when something doesn’t feel right. She said that 85 percent of breast cancer patients have no genetic connection to the disease.

“I was taken out of the blue with my breast cancer diagnosis, but you have to be your own advocate,” said Mull, 40, and the immediate past chair of Check It Out.

Listening to real life experiences from a survivor is just the first piece of the puzzle. After the disease is“humanized,” Mull said, the audience is educated on how to conduct a breast exam from a medical professional.

Barbara Berg, a health educator for more than 35 years, said thatthe detailed instruction on how
to examine one’s body is a part of what makes Check It Out such an effective resource.

“My sense is that even though there are pink ribbons and walks for cancer and people talking about breast cancer, young women aren’t necessarily educated about what kinds of things in their own body they should be aware of, and, as they get older, the kinds of things they should [check for],” said Berg, a part-time staffer at Hadassah who also helps oversee the program.

Following the two elements of the program, each student is provided an index card to write down questions that they may feel uncomfortable asking in front of their peers. Additionally, speakers stick around following the presentation to answer questions one-on-one with teens. Each student is also provided with a Check It Out kit that includes a handbag with an evaluation sheet for the presentation and a self-examination checklist. Some years, the kit has also included model breasts for practicing a self-exam.

Perhaps the true sign of Check It Out’s effectiveness is that, aside from technological enhancements here and there, the program has essentially remained the same since its inception. It continues to rely on a committed group of staff and volunteers who are working to ensure that teens are aware that early detection can be the key to saving a life —  maybe their own.

Marsha Oakley has seen the imp-ortance of early detection from both sides. Oakley, the nursing coordinator at Mercy Hospital’s Hoffberger Breast Center, is a two-time breast cancer survivor herself. She’s spoken at Check It Out programs both as a survivor and as a medical professional.

“I have never doubted that I am alive because I found that thing. I use myself as an example that [early detection] works,” Oakley said. “[Through this program] we know people’s lives have been changed.”

Hadassah Check It Out Challenge
Benefiting breast and testicular cancer education programs for Greater Baltimore kids and other local initiatives
8K-5K-1Mile Run/Walk
Sunday, July 28; Goucher College
Cost: $35 before July 26; $40 on race day
Register online at active.com.
For more information, contact baltimore.chapter@hadassah.org or call 410-484-9590.

David Snyder is a JT staff reporter dsnyder@jewishtimes.com