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October 31, 2014, 4:54 PM
National Breast Cancer Awareness Month may end today, but Halloween is a good occasion to remember: nothing is scarier than being told you have cancer! The good news is that today, breast cancer is highly treatable if detected early.
Even though I was diagnosed with breast cancer 15 years ago, I still recall the feeling in my gut when I heard my diagnosis. I wish I could do something to make sure the words, “You have breast cancer”, are never heard again. That's not possible…yet. But education and awareness mean fewer women get breast cancer every year, and the rates of survival have dramatically increased.
So how important is it to monitor your breast health and get regular mammograms? Despite all the progress that's been made, breast cancer is still the second most frequently diagnosed cancer among Maine women (after skin cancer).
Access to prevention, detection, and treatment is vital, but can be challenging for Maine women who do not have health insurance. Fortunately, there are programs to help all women get screened:
• Planned Parenthood provides breast exams and screenings on a sliding fee scale—no one is turned away because of an inability to pay—as well as referrals and financial help paying for mammograms and follow-up services. http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-info/womens-health/breast-cancer-screenings
• The Maine CDC Breast and Cervical Health Program covers the cost of mammograms to women who are uninsured, underinsured, and have incomes below 250% of the federal poverty level http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/population-health/bcp/index.htm
• The Maine Breast Cancer Coalition Support Service Fund is a unique, Maine-based private fund that provides financial assistance for individuals undergoing breast cancer treatment who need one-time help, whether because they can't work or for other reasons. (We are so lucky to have this resource in Maine.) http://www.mainebreastcancer.org/services.cfm
For the latest screening protocol, check out the American Cancer Society's latest national guidelines: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/index
As with all aspects of your health, access to regular care improves women's chances of leading a long and healthy life. And that means having health insurance. Fortunately, there are now surprisingly affordable health plans available on the Health Insurance Marketplace. In this first year of the Marketplace, more than 90% or Mainers qualified for financial help. Enroll207.com is a good Maine resource for anyone who wants to find out more about getting coverage.
So, on this last day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, please do me a huge favor: ask all the women in your life if they've had their mammograms on schedule, and are conducting regular breast self-exams.
Thank you and Happy Healthy Halloween!
Meredith Strang Burgess
15 year Breast Cancer Survivor and Activist &
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