Women’s Cancer Screening Program Rescued!

I had a lot of reasons for attending Cambodian New Year at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet this Saturday, but top of the list was getting to talk to the good people at the Women’s Cancer Screening Program. They were one of the community groups running an information table and I used to coordinate with them when I worked in health promotion for the Providence Housing Authority.

Believe it or not, most people are not interested in spending more time at the doctor’s, even if they have no insurance. Outreach and education are key. Years of hard work, however, have paid off and with unemployment high more women are seeking out the program.

I remember one woman, working but uninsured. She knew something was wrong and asked for screening. She had a mastectomy on Valentines Day, which struck me as especially sad. However, I ran into her a few years after the surgery. She looked good, she was glad to be alive.

Other women I met were grateful to get the screening because they were paying for all their doctor’s visits, and this allowed them to stretch their health care budget.

My own mother’s experience of disclosing a lump that turned out to be cancer while on a doctor’s visit for something else has brought it close to home. I’m very grateful for Medicare, which covered her treatment.

The value and cost savings of early diagnosis seems so obvious that you would think this screening program would be rewarded, not punished for success. I was very sorry to see this headline last month in the Providence Journal

A federally financed program that provides free cancer screening for poor, uninsured women in Rhode Island has run out of money until July, drained by soaring demand as more women lose health insurance…

Marlene McCarthy, director of the Rhode Island Breast Cancer Coalition, said that in recent months her group “has been inundated with calls from women who need their mammograms and now lack health insurance.” Hospitals and health centers are also reporting significant increases in uninsured people needing care, a trend that can quickly strain resources.

But this week, things are looking better. Grant money has come through and the program will re-start in May.

At this time I am visiting a patient whose breast cancer was not caught early, and it a very sobering experience. I remembering attending the Race for the Cure one year and being shocked and amazed at the huge number of people who participated. We all know survivors and most of us have lost loved ones too.

Fundamental to health care reform is disease prevention. We don’t yet have a cure, or even a sure plan for prevention of cancer. However, with early detection we can reduce the cost in money and suffering.

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