Make A Difference Breast Cancer Screenings is making a difference in the community

September 10, 2012|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE |
  • Linda Carter's breast cancer was detected after she had an exam, mammogram and ultrasound through Meritus Health's Make A Difference Breast Cancer Screening program. After a mastectomy, she is now cancer free.
By Yvette May/Staff photographer

Linda Carter of Hagerstown knew she had a lump in her right breast.

The lump was so large that she characterized it as "bigger than a golf ball, but not softball size."

"You could see it through the shirt," the 48-year-old said.

But, she kept telling herself, she couldn't afford to take time off from work to get the lump checked out. And she didn't have insurance to pay for it.

Carter said that's when her landlord first mentioned Meritus Health's Make A Difference Breast Cancer Screening program, which gives free screenings to women who are uninsured or underinsured.

She said she even was going to make an appointment, but she just couldn't seem to get the time off from work.

So in a way, when Carter was involved in a car accident in the summer of 2011 it was actually a small blessing. Because, she said, she had no choice but to be off work and realized she had the time to make that appointment.

Carter was still healing from her car accident the day she came into the breast cancer screening.

"I had two black eyes and my knee was in a brace," she said.

Carter said she hobbled into the room and waited for her appointment. After an examination by the nurse practitioner, she was sent to get a mammogram that same day because there was cause for concern about the size of the lump. She was then sent to get an ultrasound.

Through it all, a Make A Difference breast-health navigator helped Carter find the doctor she needed, helped her with financial aid and, most importantly, held her hand.

A biopsy confirmed what Carter had feared — she had stage three breast cancer.

Carrie Starkey, Make A Difference program coordinator, said the program has seen more than 2,700 women during its 10 years. And through those screenings, 19 women were diagnosed with breast cancer, she said.

"It's designed to help uninsured and underinsured women living in our community to get free breast health education, screenings and detection and treatment, if necessary," Starkey said of the program.

Held monthly, there are three more screenings for September — Thursday, Sept. 13, Saturday, Sept. 15 and Saturday, Sept. 22 (see breast screenings information box on page A7 for times and locations).

A grant-driven program, the Make a Difference Program is funded by the Maryland Affiliate of Susan G. Koman for the Cure, Avon Foundation of Women and Ride Across Maryland, allowing the program to continue to offer its services for free. Locally, the program coordinates with Meritus Health, John R. Marsh Cancer Center, Breast Cancer Awareness - Cumberland Valley and the Washington County Health Department's Breast and Cervical Cancer Program.

The screenings are open to women ages 18 and older, regardless of where they live, Starkey said. Women from Baltimore and Prince George's County as well as West Virginia and Pennsylvania have used the free services. And women ages 40 and older who are due for a mammogram or have not received their first mammogram will either receive a mammogram that day or within three weeks.

During the screening, Starkey said women will fill out a short form, then meet with a nurse practitioner who gives a clinic breast exam.

"Those women who are due or need a mammograms will receive one often the same day as the clinic, " Starkey said. "We want it to be one-step for them."

At the base of the program is education. Women are shown how to administer self-breast examinations. For example, a prop is used that has the feel of a breast but under the surface there are "lumps." This prop  teaches women how to recognize foreign bodies in their breasts.

Trudy Joslin, outreach coordinator and breast health navigator for the program, leads the educational aspect. She said in addition to the screenings, Make A Difference is out in the community often with tables at health and job fairs to get the word out about the program.

But, she said, her job goes beyond the diagnosis.

Because what makes the program so unusual is that it helps women navigate through the medical aspects.

"We're full spectrum, we go all the way through to treatment and afterward," Starkey said.

Joslin said she has held many hands after something was detected in the mammogram.

"I'm there emotionally for them," Joslin said. "If they want to talk about what's going on in their lives of if they want to cry, that's fine, too."

Carter, a mother of three ages 12 to 29, said in addition to her husband, Doug, it was the people through the Make A Difference program that gave her the support she needed.

Diagnosed on June 21, 2011, Carter said she had to undergo 24 weeks of chemotherapy. She started chemotherapy in September and it continued through January 2012. In March, she had a mastectomy on her right breast. In April, she started 28 treatments of radiation. Today, she is cancer free.

Carter wipes away tears as she thinks back through her journey. But she's grateful, she said, to the Make A Difference Breast Cancer Screening Program.

"Without them, I don't know if I would have ever gotten it checked," she said.

Carter encourages other women to take advantage of the program.

"Without Make A Difference, I might not be here," she said.

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