Women Have a Friend and Much More in the Healthy Breast Campaign
A breast lump is alarming enough when you have good insurance, supportive loved ones and a grasp of the health care system. And your first language is English. Thousands of women in Santa Cruz County have none of that—but they have Carla Gomez.
Ms. Gomez is an outreach coordinator for the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Healthy Breast Campaign, which reaches out to educate underserved women on the importance of breast cancer screenings and connect them to available resources.
"The best part of my job is seeing the relief on a woman’s face when she realizes she’s not alone," Ms. Gomez says. "Especially for a Latina, even the suggestion of breast cancer can be devastating. Her husband may leave her and she may never seek treatment; instead, she just lives in fear."
That doesn’t happen on Ms. Gomez’s watch. Born and raised in Watsonville, she is a social worker who was tapped by PAMF in 2011 for a new position created to address the fact that only a minority of Latinas over age 40 get annual mammograms. Although breast cancer is less prevalent among Latinas, they are two or three times more likely to receive the diagnosis too late; and even when caught early, breast cancer seems to lead to poorer outcomes for Latina patients.
"They may not realize that with early treatment, women are surviving," Ms. Gomez explains. "They may qualify for free screenings but not know it—and they probably have no idea that, if there is no other way, PAMF will pay for their diagnosis and cancer treatment."
PAMF Santa Cruz contributes more than $3.5 million annually to charitable care and community benefit programs such as the Healthy Breast Campaign, which was launched with an Avon Foundation grant and is now partially supported by the Safeway Foundation and generous community members.
Most participating women like Eva Lopez have jobs that place them just above the poverty line or they only have coverage with a very high deductible. PAMF Santa Cruz offers them a three-step process that begins and ends with Carla Gomez:
- Education through local clinics and community events.
- Diagnosis and treatment, from biopsies to surgeries.
- Navigation through the complexity of paperwork, appointments, child care and transportation.
Fortunately, most screenings and biopsies reveal no cancer. In fact, of the more than 3,500 women Ms. Gomez reached last year, only two turned out to have breast cancer. They are alive today because of PAMF and Carla Gomez—alive and at peace with the experience. An abnormal mammogram is never easy, but thanks to the Healthy Breast Campaign it is far less alarming—and much more likely to have a happy ending.