Breast cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death for women, and Florida ranked second in the United States in the number of new breast cancer cases and deaths in 2017. There are more than 19,000 breast cancer stories in Florida every year. I’ll share two of them.
The first occurred in 2012 to a young woman who had recently become a full-time student. The other occurred just last year to a woman who was between jobs.
Why do these two stories stand out? It’s not just because both cases involved someone who did not have access to insurance during a critical time of her life.
Rather, it’s because both women were me.
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They also stand out because my experiences help demonstrate the importance of Florida’s Mary Brogan Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, which provides cancer screenings to medically underserved women.
In 2012, I was a full-time student who went to my university clinic for a routine check-up. When a lump was discovered in my right breast, I was directed to a local hospital’s charity program for follow up. From there, it took months to confirm the diagnosis and begin treatment. Through all the delays, I had to live with what felt like a ticking time bomb in my body. Looking back, my treatment path was the only one offered, and there was virtually no discussion of options I might consider.
When I discovered a lump in the same breast just a few years later, I was told about the Mary Brogan Program. That program connected me with a navigator who immediately connected me to a doctor who scheduled a biopsy within three weeks. Once the breast-cancer diagnosis was confirmed, all my options were clearly outlined, and treatment began almost immediately. Today, I am proud to say I am cancer free.
Two diagnoses. Two different experiences.
Both programs saved my life, and for that I am thankful. But, the Mary Brogan Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program treated me like a patient — not like a low-income patient. I am surviving cancer for the second time because this program has a network of doctors and advocates that quickly helped me get the attention I needed.
Delays in treatment can be critical, as decreased survival rates are often associated with waiting more than 90 days after an abnormal mammogram to begin treatment. With proper funding, the Mary Brogan program can help address this problem.
The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Komen, the Florida Breast Cancer Foundation and other public health groups all agree that the Mary Brogan program needs a minimum of $2.6 million or thousands of women just like me could pay the ultimate price. Unfortunately, the program was left unfunded in the governor’s proposed budget this year. Though the Florida House approved $1.9 million, which brings the funding to $2.2 million — the same amount funded last year — the Senate, so far, has not included funding in its budget request.
On behalf of the 132,500 women who have had the experience of going through this program over the past five years, I thank the legislators who are providing funding. I thank the advocates who speak up for people like me. And, most important, I thank the wonderful network of medical professionals and social workers who are at the heart of the Mary Brogan program.
And, on behalf of the thousands of women who will receive this life-changing diagnosis in 2018, it’s time to make our voices heard. Implore legislators to support funding for the Mary Brogan program.
Makeda McClune is a two-time breast cancer survivor and motivational speaker based in Miami Gardens.