In my job, I’ve become accustomed to hearing women cry on the phone. Often, I’m calling to tell them that their breast-screening results show an abnormality that needs further testing. But they usually cry tears of relief, not fear.
As a Planned Parenthood health center Services Coordinator in Sacramento, I help hundreds of women navigate the complicated system of health care funding programs for breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. And I’m still surprised by the number of women I speak to who hesitated to get screened, even when they thought something was wrong, because they didn’t think they could afford treatment.
One told me, “I had a lump, but I was going to wait a few months to come in so I could work enough overtime at my job to pay for it.” Another who had just begun a job in the State Capitol building said she had found a lump, but her insurance coverage hadn’t started yet. Both were able to rely on one of the dwindling breast cancer treatment funding programs for low-income patients.
So, here is my message to California women as we wind down October Breast Cancer Awareness Month:
Come in to get screened, even if you think you can’t afford it.
While it’s true that outside funding for breast cancer treatment has dried up in much of the public and private sectors, there are still some programs available to low-income women, such as California’s Every Woman Counts (EWC). Thanks to a bill recently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, EWC has been expanded to cover women of all ages, not just those 40 and older.
In 2012, when we were seeing more young women diagnosed with breast cancer in the Sacramento area, we developed the Breast Cancer Project in partnership with Sutter Imaging and Oncology to ensure treatment for all patients regardless of their ability to pay -- and 760 of the patients under 40 we have seen since then required biopsies or other diagnostic treatment. Though thousands of previously uninsured women had been able to get insurance coverage after passage of the Affordable Care Act, many still have deductible costs as high as $5,000, and they relied on outside funding programs to get the care they needed.
Early diagnosis not only saves lives but may mean that follow-up treatments won’t be necessary. One 41-year-old patient I spoke to this year, whose annual income was less than $24,000, came in for a screening last spring and was referred out to have a biopsy. She was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma and had a double-mastectomy, all of which was paid for by EWC. Because she came in for early detection and treatment, she does not need chemotherapy or radiation.
Over the past year, of the more than 26,000 breast screenings done at Planned Parenthood Mar Monte’s (PPMM) health centers throughout the 42 counties in the mid-California and northern Nevada regions that they serve, nearly 1,500 required further diagnosis and testing. In the Sacramento area alone, 17 women who have come through PPMM’s breast screening program have been diagnosed and treated for cancer.
There is help out there to guide you through the system and find a way to get affordable treatment. If you feel a lump, what you really can’t afford to do is to wait.
Encouraging you to make an appointment to get screened today,
Jamaica, Services Coordinator
at a Planned Parenthood Mar Monte health center