“Now what?” she asked herself. “Am I going to die because I don’t have insurance?”
Cancer survivor Tammy Buck’s mother, who died from breast cancer in 2006. CONTRIBUTED
GRANT PROGRAM OFFERS FREE CANCER SCREENINGS
A nurse noticed her tears and encouraged Buck to reach out to the Breast and Cervical Cancer Project (BCCP) through Premier Community Health. It’s a grant program through the Ohio Department of Health that offers free breast and cervical cancer screenings and treatment for uninsured women in 16 southwestern Ohio counties.
It’s one of many ways area health care providers are fighting back against a national trend of declining breast cancer screening rates. They are reaching out to underserved and uninsured women through measures such as mobile mammography units, health fairs and free screenings through the BCCP and the Kettering Health Network’s Women’s Wellness Fund.
Yet the federal government’s Healthy People 2020 goal — for 81.1 percent of women ages 50 to 74 to be screened at least every other year — continues to be elusive due to factors such as lack of insurance, overscheduled lives and fear of a procedure that’s perceived as painful. Screening rates declined nationally between 2000 and 2015 after soaring in the ’80s and ’90s.
“We know historically that a lot of women don’t follow through with preventive screening because of a lack of insurance,” said BCCP program director Shari Martin.
Martin told Buck the program would pay for everything for women who qualify — all testing, including ultrasounds and biopsies. “You don’t need to have all that worry about money added on to everything you’re going through,” she said.
The BCCP has been a godsend for nearly 1,000 women in the past year who otherwise couldn’t afford life-saving screenings and treatments. An additional 317 women received vouchers for screenings and tests through the Premier Community Health program.
The Breast and Cervical Cancer Project (BCCP) saw Tammy Buck through a bilateral mastectomy and chemotherapy treatments. ”I am overwhelmed with gratitude to the BCCP for helping me like that,” she said. CONTRIBUTED
Recalled Buck, “They covered every single thing that happened. I was so relieved.”
When she needed someone to listen, Martin was always there, Buck said: “Shari was a great support system to me. She took the time to listen and to reassure me. That’s part of the program, too.”
Five years post-diagnosis, Buck is “seriously loving” her new job as a bank teller and her new life as a cancer survivor. The program saw her through a bilateral mastectomy and chemotherapy treatments. ”I am overwhelmed with gratitude to the BCCP for helping me like that,” she said.
Preventive measures are paying off, Martin said, with a 33-percent reduction in cancer mortality rates in Ohio from 1996 to 2014. But much work remains to be done; mortality rates are 35-percent higher for black women, primarily because they are getting screened and diagnosed at a later stage, Martin said.
TOO MANY TOO BUSY FOR A MAMMOGRAM
Busy schedules can be another barrier to regular screenings, said Sally Grady, director of Kettering Breast Evaluation Centers (KBEC) for Kettering Health Network.
“As women, we are so busy taking care of our families that we tend to put ourselves last,” Grady said. “You can be in and out of our sites within 20 minutes, with easy parking. We want to make the experience as good as we possibly can and to really hold their hand through the whole process.”
Leslie Leibold agrees that women often postpone an annual mammogram “because we are so busy doing things for everyone else.”
That’s why the staffing agency where she works — AMPM Employment in Springfield — decided to invite Mercy Health’s mobile mammography unit to their office.
At 36, Leibold feels peace of mind after having her first mammogram. “It made me feel good,” she said. “The ladies were very warm and welcoming and easy to talk to.”
In January 2017 Mercy Health borrowed a mobile mammography unit from a sister hospital in Columbus. “It proved successful because the need was so great and the barriers were so great to getting a mammogram,” said Dawn Naill, the Mercy Health marketing specialist in charge of the program.
It’s natural for women to feel so busy they forget to schedule a mammogram — and it’s also dangerous, Naill concurred: “Ladies just get busy and they forget about it. At our very first public event, a patient was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had fallen out of the loop, and it had been six years or so since her last mammogram.”
Dawn Naill, left, and Leslie Leibold, are doing a Facebook Live video at the screening event at Leibold’s workplace where Leibold got her first mammogram. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY HARDMEDIAGROUP.COM
MOBILE MAMMOGRAMS A GROWING TREND
Leibold was pleased when several women walked in off the street at her workplace event. She encourages other employers to bring the mobile mammography coach to the workplace. “It’s a way of letting your employees know that they matter, that they support women’s health and want to do whatever they can to help their employees to stay healthy,” she said. “And all they need is a parking lot that’s big enough to cover the bus.”
Since its inception, Mercy’s mobile mammography unit has screened 1,600 patients, resulting in 15 diagnoses. Half of those were walk-ins.
“Many have never had a mammogram, and they’re scared,” Naill said. “And afterward they say, ‘That was not that bad; I don’t know why I waited.’”
KBEC is allaying women’s fears about an unpleasant, painful experience by introducing a new “SensorySuite” at its Lincoln Park site. Women can choose from one of three backgrounds – seaside, garden or waterfall – projecting scenic images on an oversized LED screen. “They can watch beautiful beaches and waterfalls, set to music, while wearing a warm gown,” Grady said. “We want to change the way a woman experiences a mammogram.”
Confusing and conflicting medical reports also can be a deterrent to annual screenings, according to Diane Anderson, a radiologist and medical director of the breast center at Miami Valley Hospital North.
“I do these screenings every day, and I think it’s very important to have a screening mammogram every year,” Anderson said. “Otherwise we’ll miss Stage 0 and Stage 1, and we’ll find cancers at higher stages that have spread to the lymph nodes.”
Selena Kemper, mammography supervisor, gets the 3D mammography machine ready for a patient in Mercy Health’s 3D Mobile Mammography Vehicle at the Upper Valley Mall earlier this year. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
IMPORTANCE OF EARLY DETECTION
Annual mammograms for women over 40 are important because early detection greatly increases the chances of survival, Grady concurred: “A lot can happen in a year.”
Retired teacher Betty Morris of Miamisburg, 84, knows that all too well. She had not missed a mammogram in more than 40 years — even at an age when many friends assumed they are past danger.
Her persistence paid off. Last year, she was diagnosed with a fast-growing ductal carcinoma of the right breast, which already had progressed to stage 3.
She is now in recovery after undergoing a lumpectomy as well as radiation treatments and six months of chemotherapy. ”Medicine is important, but just as important are the love and care that people showed me at Kettering Cancer Center,” Morris said.
Today she feels as if “nothing was ever wrong,” and she’s grateful she can support her husband, Ross, a retired educator, also recently diagnosed with cancer.
“I am so thankful for everything,” she said. “It has been a wonderful life, and it means so much more to me now. We just want to make every minute count.”
COMMUNITY RESOURCES AND EVENTS
Mercy Health mobile mammography unit: If businesses want to schedule the coach to visit their site, contact Dawn Naill, at 937-523-9330 or DNaill@mercy.com.
The mobile mammography coach at Atrium Medical Center: Interested in bringing the mobile mammography coach to your business or event, call (844) 453-4199 or e-mail MobileMammo@premierhealth.com. Women who wish to schedule a screening should call 855-887-7364.
Breast and Cervical Cancer Project: Call 1-866-838-8973 to see if you are eligible for free screenings or breast cancer treatments.
Brake for Breakfast: To raise awareness about the importance of mammography, Premier Health will hold Brake for Breakfast Oct. 23 at Atrium Medical Center in Middletown and Oct. 24 at Miami Valley Hospital South. Commuters can simply pull up in their cars to receive free Panera Bread breakfast bags along with information promoting breast health.