Profiles/Success Stories

Missing Voices in Breast Cancer Care

By: Michelle Young-Stears

What does a single mother of 3 who supports her family working at McDonalds do when she discovers a lump in her breast?   Despite her shock and despite her panic, she might very well will herself to ignore it, might tell no one and deny her discovery to herself because as a single mother of 3 making $7.79/hour, she can’t afford a mammogram and she sure can’t afford to get breast cancer.  Finding out she has breast cancer would simply mean finding out she has no hope, or so she thinks.

Fortunately, if she lives in Sarasota County and she finds her way to Sarasota Memorial’s Breast Health Center, she will be cared for, and quickly.  Thanks to Susan G. Komen Florida Suncoast, she will receive a mammogram, an ultrasound and/or a biopsy free-of-charge.  Rather than incur expensive medical bills, thanks to Komen, it costs this scared, single mother nothing.

The need is far beyond what most of us grasp.  It’s the mother of college-bound children who always had insurance through her husband’s employer, until her husband lost his job.  It’s the married woman, who like her spouse, works fulltime but is among the multitude of working poor who lack health insurance.  And it’s the many single women suffering from debilitating health conditions, unable to work, and living on next-to-nothing.

When a Komen grant recipient is diagnosed with cancer, it is my job is to ensure that she receives the full continuum of cancer care and access to any screening or diagnostic services necessary to ensure that breast cancer does not take her life. It is my responsibility to guide her through the process of applying for and receiving emergency Medicaid (which can be accomplished in a week or less through the Florida Department of Health and the CDC’s Florida Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program), or directing her to Sarasota Memorial Hospital’s Community Medical Clinic, which provides free surgery and/or treatment to those in need. Without financial support from Susan G. Komen Florida Suncoast, my position would not exist.

And if she is not a resident of Sarasota County, but resides in one of the neighboring counties, Susan G. Komen is there too.  I can refer her to multiple locations in any of the surrounding counties, where she can still get her screening and diagnostic care, compliments of Susan G. Komen.

In an ideal world and certainly in the world I advocate for, we would stop poisoning our bodies and our planet, and breast and other cancer rates would be decreasing.  Early detection is not a cure, and a cure is definitely not prevention, but we clearly don’t live in an ideal world.  For the man or woman who discovers a breast lump today, survival is their top priority.  I see too many women who have known something was not right for too long but delayed seeking a mammogram because they could not afford it and didn’t know they had options.  I also see a good number of women who do know about our Komen grants and who return each year for their free mammogram.  Despite lacking economic means or health insurance, they are doing the most any of us can do to ensure that should breast cancer ever be a factor in their lives, it will not be an ending factor.

There are important voices missing from the discussions regarding Susan G. Komen’s policies, priorities, and overall impact on lives – the voices of women who are not on social media, whose stories and perspectives are absent from all media.  I am speaking about and on behalf of the many women and men in my community (and no doubt your’s) who lack health insurance and the economic means to pay for so much as a mammogram.  Without their voices, we can neither fully nor accurately assess the value or impact of Susan G. Komen dollars in our communities and in our collective lives.

Michelle Y. Stears

Breast Health Grant Support, Sarasota Memorial Healthcare System

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