By Ashley Gonzalez, SJBPH Clinic Manager

These days it seems rare to find someone who has not been affected by breast cancer.  It may be a friend, coworker, mother, or sister who has gone through the life-changing experience of a breast cancer diagnosis. The overwhelming details that follow a diagnosis including figuring out insurance, meeting with surgeons and oncologists, and discussing treatment options, are difficult for anyone to manage. With about 3,500 new cases a year, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Colorado women and the second leading cause of cancer death.

San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) provides programming through the Women’s Wellness Connection (WWC), to support women with services related to breast cancer screening and health navigation. At SJBPH’s Sexual Health Clinic, breast and cervical cancer screenings are a principle part of each patient’s annual well woman exam.  Through the WWC, SJBPH provides breast and cervical cancer screenings, including any diagnostic tests, free of charge to women who qualify.  Beyond paying for lab tests and imaging, health navigation is an essential component to this program. The clinic staff ensures that each patient is provided the education they need to understand the importance of the screening, and address barriers to care such as language interpretation, transportation, insurance, finance, and beliefs that may prevent the patient from completing their screenings and diagnostic testing.

SJBPH’s WWC also includes a community health worker who focuses efforts to connect with women at libraries, rec centers, grocery stores, health fairs, and other community gathering places to provide education and direct assistance to women to overcome barriers that may prevent them from getting their health screenings. The goal is to ensure that women have the resources to access the services available to them. This targeted outreach is focused on reaching women who are less likely to get their cancer screenings including women who are uninsured and those aged 50-59, among other characteristics.  The need for a community health worker in the WWC program is clear, since there are approximately 92,000 low-income women in Colorado who are not up to date with their breast cancer screenings.

In 2018, several SJBPH patients were diagnosed with breast cancer.  Without previous symptoms and a history of normal mammograms, their diagnoses were a surprise to them.  Following a cancer diagnosis, the medical providers and health navigators in the clinic at SJBPH focus first on ensuring that patients have health insurance coverage, or access to financial assistance in order to receive treatment as soon as possible. A breast or cervical cancer diagnosis results in numerous medical appointments, which can be difficult for any patient.  SJBPH serves a large percentage of women with Limited English Proficiency who speak Spanish as their primary language, which adds additional barriers to getting information and care.  SJBPH’s interpreter was able to help one of the women diagnosed with breast cancer with understanding test results, scheduling appointments, and receiving additional resources.

The healthcare system can be overwhelming, but SJBPH health navigators and medical providers work to understand the barriers that patients experience and provide services and referrals that ensure access to these important screenings.  The clinic at SJBPH offers low-cost or free breast and cervical cancer screening as well as low cost contraceptives and screening for sexually transmitted infections.  In a time when health insurance is inaccessible to many, and difficult to understand, there are additional services available to those in Southwestern Colorado.

San Juan Basin Public Health urges women to get their annual breast and cervical screenings. Regular screenings are the best way to detect cancer early before it has spread and while the cancer is easier to treat.  SJBPH’s Women’s Wellness Connection provides its services free of charges to eligible women and can help on the path to treatment and a healthy lifestyle. For more information see: https://sjbpublichealth.org/sexualhealthclinic/ or call 970.335.2015.