FALMOUTH — Frustrated by the continuing high rates of cancer across the state, the Maine Cancer Foundation is turning to a new campaign to battle the disease.

Called Maine’s Impact Cancer Network, the goal of the initiative is to gather key players and stakeholders together to create a community plan or common agenda that’s evidence-based and has participation from all the sectors affected by cancer, from patients to doctors to support groups and more.

The idea, according to Heather Drake, program manager at the foundation, is to hold a series of conversations with the stakeholders “to learn what is happening in their lives around cancer, the change they would like to see, and how we can work together to make change happen.”

“We will take the key themes from these conversations and turn them into a common agenda or objectives for a state-wide community plan to address cancer,” Drake said.

That plan, which will be presented at a conference in mid-May, will identify specific strategies and lead to a work plan that would include continuous communication among the members of the network, Drake said.

“The cancer network will make a difference because it will create a plan that comes directly from the people and has buy-in from stakeholders across the state,” she added.

“It creates a network of people who want to be engaged in addressing the high rates of cancer in Maine and who will support that network through (various) working groups.”

In creating the new network, the cancer foundation is using a strategy known as a collective impact framework, which relies on commitments from important actors from different sectors to create a common agenda for solving a specific social problem, according to the Collective Impact Forum’s website.

The idea behind a collective impact approach is the understanding that no single government department or organization can solve complex problems, including the prevention and cure of diseases such as cancer.

“Too many organizations are working in isolation from one another. Collective impact brings people together,? in a structured way, to achieve … change,” the Forum states.

Basically, Drake said, we’re “creating systems change through collaboration, community engagement and relationship building. (The collective impact approach) re-focuses the great work we do as individual stakeholders and organizations into a strategic way to move forward together.

In creating the cancer network, the Maine Cancer Foundation is bringing together people who are living with or have beaten a cancer diagnosis, businesses, non-profits and government agencies.

“So,” Drake said, “we have both traditional partners, who work directly in the cancer field, along with non-traditional partners.”

She said creation of the cancer network was something the foundation first began working on several years ago.

“Knowing that addressing the high rates of cancer in Maine couldn’t be done through just the work of the Maine Cancer Foundation, staff began to think more creatively,” according to Drake.

She said the foundation has now created a Leadership Roundtable to oversee the cancer network, with the foundation serving in a supporting role, providing staffing, funding, resources and organizational support.

“This is an important step because it demonstrates (the foundation’s) commitment to reducing cancer in a way that Mainers can get behind and be involved in. (The foundation) is not trying to pursue its own goals through this initiative, but working to make it a program of the people,” Drake said.

“There is great work happening all over Maine to reduce cancer and improve prevention and care, but that work will be more successful if we can come together to replicate what is working, think about what isn’t and fill in the necessary gaps.”

The mission of Maine Cancer Foundation is to reduce the incidence and mortality of cancer in Maine and, to that end, the foundation launched its Challenge Cancer 20/20 initiative three years ago, which has a goal of reducing cancer deaths in Maine 20 percent by 2020.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

Members of the Maine Cancer Foundation’s new Impact Cancer Network gathered in Machias.

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