The day the Baltimore City Cancer Program started its free breast/cervical cancer-screening program, Meredith White was the first person that walked in the door. That was in December 2001.
Two years later, the program helped save her life.
In center, Meredith White (in pink shirt and black hat) surrounded by Baltimore City Cancer Program staff.
In April 2003, doctors found something suspicious in her mammogram. Other tests followed, along with a diagnosis of breast cancer. That May, she had surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center's Greenebaum Cancer Center and then received subsequent treatment, including chemotherapy and radiation.
White credits the screening program for catching her disease, and treating it effectively. "I'm very grateful. The screening program is excellent," she said. "I cannot say enough about this program. It's important, especially for lower income women, with no medical insurance, and a lack of knowledge."
White found out about the program by chance. She had been receiving yearly screenings elsewhere, but the place she had gone to closed down.
"So I just happened to walk into UniversityCare and told them I needed a mammogram and they were so happy, and told me about the free screenings. I was very delighted," recalled White. "They did the screening that very day."
The Baltimore City Cancer Program at UniversityCare offers free breast, cervical and oral cancer screenings to the uninsured in Baltimore City. The program provides free breast cancer screenings at four University of Maryland family health centers throughout West Baltimore. Patients can also get free cervical cancer Pap smear tests at any one of the UniversityCare locations.
As of January 31, 2004, they've performed 6,774 free screenings thanks to the Maryland Cigarette Restitution Fund, a statewide initiative established as a result of the state's tobacco industry settlement. So far, these screenings have identified 22 patients with cancer.
Rhonda Silva, R.N., program manager of the Baltimore City Cancer Program, says the program provides a vital service.
"Without this program we would not be able to reach and educate the amount of uninsured women and family members that we do," Silva said. "It's a valuable program. The 22 cancers we found, if it wasn't for this program, those people would have had a difficult time finding treatment to combat their cancer."
One of White's doctors, Katherine H. Tkaczuk, M.D., said the program allows access to the state-of-the-art medical oncology care for patients who would otherwise lack access for various reasons (no medical insurance, psychosocial barriers). "From a provider point of view, I find that having this program helps to implement breast cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery," Tkaczuk said. "The program also helps to provide breast cancer patients with necessary support and knowledge to understand seek and obtain breast cancer treatments to achieve the best possible outcome."
Tkaczuk is the director of the Greenebaum Cancer Center's Breast Evaluation Program and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
For her part, White feels she received excellent care throughout the whole process, from the time she had her screenings through all of her subsequent treatments.
" I can't say enough about the program. The individuals (at the screening program) hooked me up with good doctors. They understood my nervousness and fears. They explained what was going to happen in detail. They were comforting."
Not only did they refer her to the appropriate doctors at the Greenebaum Cancer Center, they provided a strong support system for White throughout her treatment.
"When I was in the hospital, they met me there. They were with me. They would call me and talk on the phone. This is the way they treated me and they still do," she said. "They comforted me and I could call them anytime. They are just like another family to me now. I would give everything for them."
She also praised her entire treatment team. "The doctors and the nurses, they explained everything to me. I am eternally grateful," White said. "No one was too busy to answer my questions, hold my hand, and tell me everything was going to be all right. They have been very supportive of me. To have someone to ease your mind is wonderful."
After her treatment, White spoke at the Baltimore City Cancer Program's Celebrating Life program to stress the importance of regular screenings. Her advice?
"Even if you're afraid, it's very essential that you get a mammogram and Pap smear. It's about your life," said White. We need to enlighten these women. It's about your health. Many women won't do it (get screened) because of lack of money or a lack of knowledge. But the folks here (at the program) are very helpful and they are there for you."
By Michelle W. Murray
University of Maryland Medical System Web Site Writer