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Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program 

For years, Judy Burrell faithfully went to her physician to get an annual mammogram and blood work. But every year, she would ask herself if she could continue to keep taking the tests when there wasn’t an immediate medical problem.

“It got so expensive, I couldn’t afford to keep doing all that,” Burrell said. “I had to find another resource.”

That resource turned out to be the Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program at the Haywood County Health Department. Funded by the federal Centers for Disease Control, the program provides funds annually for eligible low-income women between the ages of 50-64 to be screened for breast and cervical cancer and to receive follow-up referrals if the screening indicates more tests are needed.

That proved to be the case for Burrell in 2005 when she felt a lump in her breast a few weeks before she was scheduled for her mammogram. She called the health department and a nurse practitioner confirmed the lump and arranged for a diagnostic mammogram and a surgical consultation. Burrell was diagnosed with breast cancer and had surgery in December 2005. She thanks God and the health department that she has now been cancer free for three years.

“I believe God led me to this program and it has meant everything to me,” Burrell said. “Word needs to get out about this program because I think there are a lot of women out there like me who can’t afford to get these tests.”

Valerie Slaughter coordinates the Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program for the health department. With the $20,000 received this year from the CDC, the program has covered the cost of cancer screenings for 61 women like Burrell.

To find out if a woman qualifies for the BCCCP, Slaughter usually conducts a phone interview. In addition to the 50-64 age limitation, Slaughter must verify household income. If the woman qualifies, she then gets a physical exam, which includes a pap smear, from the nurse practitioner at the health department. Then, a mammogram is scheduled based on the physical exam.

The nurse practitioner then examines the screening test to see if there are any areas of concern. If so, the nurse practitioner arranges for further diagnostic tests and a surgical consultation.

Between now and the end of May will be a crucial time for the future of BCCCP funding, Slaughter said. Each year, the CDC bases the funding for the next year on how many women participated in the program and the health department still needs to assist 14 more women to reach its goal.

“Last year, we set the goal at 90, but we only provided services to 75,” Slaughter said. “So they set the goal this year at 75, but we’ve only done 61 so far. If we don’t reach the goal, we’ll lose more funding.”

Slaughter thinks the problem is two-fold. For some, it’s just a matter of not knowing the program is available. For others, it’s resistance to having the tests.

“I think some women are afraid to come in,” Slaughter said. “They think no news is good news.”

Based on her experience, Burrell has become a strong advocate for the BCCCP, the health department and early detection.

“Everyone here is so nice. The word needs to get out about this program,” she said. “I sent a lady here who had insurance that was going to be running out. This program was just a God-send to me.”

While the BCCCP can only cover the cost of the screening tests, Slaughter works to line up other financial assistance through programs such as North Carolina’s Comprehensive Cancer Program or BCCCP Medicaid to cover the additional costs. In addition, the health department has formed other community partnerships to help cover the cost of cancer screenings for women too young for the BCCCP.

“We have a contract with Haywood Regional Medical Center to provide a free baseline screening (first mammogram) for women between the ages of 35 and 40,” Slaughter said.

In 2007, a new community project last year called the Power of Pink raised funds to provide cancer screenings for women between ages 41 and 49. Plans are being developed now for another Power of Pink fundraising event in November.

For more information about the BCCCP and other cancer screening programs, contact Slaughter at the Haywood County Health Department at 452-6675.