By the time you're reading this, Cynthia Wiatrak has already landed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia after a nearly day long flight that has taken her from Chicago's O’Hare Airport to London and then Africa.
"I'm going to sleep," Wiatrak said simply of her long trip while her fellow mammogram technologists at the River Forest Breast Care Center enjoyed a pizza lunch at their office in her honor.
"Eat up, you're not going to have pizza for two weeks," a co-worker told her.
Wiatrak headed out of the country on Sept. 27 to Ethiopia to help set up the breast health program at Myungfung Christian Medical Center in Addis Ababa, the capitol city of Ethiopia. There, Wiatrak will be dropped into a foreign land to learn to use a mammogram machine she's never had experience with and then explain it to the staff at the medical center—all in two weeks time.
"I'm not as nervous today as I was a few weeks ago," Wiatrak said. "But I'm sure I'll be nervous at the airport."
There is currently only one other facility in the entire country of Ethiopia that is able to screen for breast cancer in the nation's women. The World Health Organization estimates that roughly 90 percent of Ethiopian women who have breast cancer will wait until the disease's final stages to seek treatment—if they do at all.
That startling fact, led Wiatrak to agree to leave her home and job for two weeks on a mission to set up the first program for early detection of breast cancer in Ethiopia in hopes of elevating the country's breast cancer survival rates.
"It's something I've been doing my whole career," Wiatrak said. "If I can save one life, it's worth it."
By setting up the program there, it's fair to say Wiatrak will be helping save more than just one life. Early detection of breast cancer, clinical studies in the United States and Europe show, have decreased mortality rates by as much as 40 percent. But in Ethiopia, with little access to healthcare and doctors and no program in place for early screening, only 1 percent of women will receive any treatment for their cancer.
Even if she's nervous, Wiatrak said, she'll have a lot of support back home.
She recently went out and purchased an iPad so that she can keep in touch with the other technologists at the River Forest Breast Care Center via lead technologist Kay Calamia's iPad in the states. The two are hoping to be able to touch base daily using Skype to communicate across the continents.
"We'll be here helping her out," Calamia said. "If she runs into any problems [setting up the machines] I'll be able to ask the other [technologists] and we can figure it out together."
Step one, Wiatrak joked, will be learning how to turn the thing on.
"I've never used [this machine] before, but all mammography machines are about the same, so I think it won't be too difficult," Wiatrak said.
Calamia will also be keeping her co-workers in the loop with a map that will be installed in the center with pictures of Wiatrak's travels posted daily.
Wiatrak is ready to jump in she said and take whatever comes her way.
"I don't know what I'll see," she laughed, "but I'll see it."
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