Breast Cancer hits home in Hampton Roads. How do low-income women find resources?

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month but resources for women are available year-round. (WYDaily/Courtesy Military Health System)
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month but resources for women are available year-round. (Southside Daily/Courtesy Military Health System)

Breast cancer is a devastating diagnosis for any woman, but for some it comes with a different set of complications.

“Low-income women face a lot of hurdles before diagnosis, after treatment and beyond,” said Desiree Parker, communications manager for the nonprofit Here for the Girls. 

Here for the Girls was born in Williamsburg with the mission of providing resources and support to women diagnosed with breast cancer younger than 51. 

Low-income women also face greater hardships in finding childcare and transportation that will work with their work schedules. A study from the journal Health Affair showed that low-income minority women are at a greater risk for losing their jobs than white, middle-class women because generally jobs with schedule flexibility are not associated with the minority.

“It’s one thing in middle class, but it’s a different story if you’re living hand-to-mouth,” Parker said.

But those difficulties don’t stop once a patient goes into remission. Parker said it’s very common for women to experience post traumatic stress disorder after going through a battle with cancer. They also have higher levels of depression and are at risk for contracting lymphedema, a condition that requires lifelong treatments.

Parker said for low-income women, there can be a delay in diagnosis if they don’t have health insurance. Once that happens, it can lead to later stages of breast cancer, which is more difficult to treat. 

To prevent that, some health care networks provide free breast cancer screenings, but in Hampton Roads these might be difficult to find.

Both Sentara Healthcare and Riverside Health System received the Susan G. Komen Grant which allows them to provide free mammograms and breast cancer screenings to people who are either uninsured or underinsured year-round. 

Kelsea Smith, spokeswoman for Sentara, said the grant identified higher areas of need taking socioeconomic status as well as medical history into whether women can receive the free services.

“The grant is provided to residents of those cities in particular because of socioeconomic barriers and because of higher mortality rates of breast cancer in those areas of Hampton Roads,” Smith wrote in an email. 

To qualify, women must be 40 years old and older and reside in either Newport News, Chesapeake, Norfolk or Portsmouth.

RELATED STORY: Certain lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of breast cancer

While Sentara is not offering free clinics to everyone at this time, the Sentara Princess Anne Health Campus recently had a golf tournament fundraiser with proceeds going toward breast exams at the Sentara Comprehensive Breast Center, Smith said.

The funds will specifically benefit women who are uninsured and underinsured in the Southside community as well as the hospital’s Unique Boutique, which provides wigs and wig fittings.

Peter Glagola, spokesman for Riverside, said the hospital has never offered free mammograms and breast exams for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the past.

“I don’t have a reason why,” he said. “We really didn’t think about having it.”

Glagola noted Riverside does offer free mammograms year-round for women ages 40 to 64 as part of the Susan G. Komen grant.

Their primary focus regarding breast cancer is education.

Riverside specialists attend different community events, showing attendees how to perform a self-breast exam and is available to answer any questions they might have about breast cancer, Glagola said.

The next event is Run for the Hills Fall Fest on Oct. 12, hosted by the nonprofit Here for the Girls.

Riverside is not hosting free breast exams or free mammograms screenings but their other location on the Eastern Shore is offering free breast exams.

For more information about Sentara’s free mammogram and breast screenings, call 757-388-2062 to schedule an appointment.

For more information about Riverside’s free mammogram and breast screenings, call 800-520-7006 to see if you qualify.

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John Mangalonzo (john@localvoicemedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.