Our Story is You – Breast Cancer Awareness
Young Mother Gets Timely Breast Cancer TreatmentMaria is always calm. No matter what the circumstances, she stays tranquil, her spirit strong. "When one sees a lot of hardship in one's life, one learns to take it all in stride," says the shy mother of two. Number eight of 10 children born and raised in Guanajuato, Mexico, Maria is no stranger to overcoming adversity. But she wasn't prepared to have a breast biopsy done at the age of 31.
She was checking herself one day in November when she felt a lump in her right breast. She made an appointment with her doctor at Santa Cruz Women's Health Center, a non-profit community-based clinic. Her doctor sent her to a local breast cancer program where she got an ultrasound and paid $60 for a mammogram - a huge amount for a family surviving on a farm-worker's minimum-wage salary.
While they confirmed the lump, they told her the biopsy would cost approximately $1,000. "I spoke to my husband and he said it's important to take care of my health, so he would find a way to pay for the biopsy," she recounts. "But it would be hard, since he is the only earning member in our family of four."
In conversation with her son's schoolteacher, Maria happened to find out that PAMF Santa Cruz was offering free breast cancer screening and any required follow-up treatment. Maria met with Carla Gomez, outreach coordinator for the PAMF Santa Cruz Healthy Breast Campaign, who explained all the procedures, scheduled doctor appointments, and provided child care.
PAMF Santa Cruz received a grant to be able to launch this comprehensive breast cancer services program targeted to uninsured and underinsured women in Santa Cruz County. So far, grant funds have helped 30 women, filling a gap in services for women who are under 40 and whose screenings are no longer covered by state program funds.
On March 25, Maria underwent the surgical procedure to remove the abnormal benign growth in her breast. Even when entering the operating room, she wasn't nervous. "I was confident I would come out OK because Carla had explained everything to me, the nurses had reassured me, and I trusted the surgeons to do their job well," she says.
A big part of that confidence came from Carla being ever-present as a translator, asking questions on behalf of Maria and being her advocate. "Carla is an angel," says Maria. "She has been a friend, a family member, a translator, a baby-sitter, a person I can trust with my life."
Maria kisses her three-year old son as he lies asleep in her arms. "I am really thankful for this help," she says. "I don't know what I would have done if it were not for their timely assistance."
The original grant that funded the launch of the program ran its course at the end of last year - a fact that Maria is well aware of as she makes a sincere appeal. "Hopefully this program will continue," says Maria. "Without the help of these doctors, nurses and Carla, it would have been very hard for me to get treatment."
Resilient and hopeful, she smiles. "There are good people everywhere. If we don't look out for each other in our communities, who will?"
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