A Baltimore woman credits the Cancer Program for catching her breast cancer at an early stage and providing the assistance that made her treatment possible
Lizzie Myers can't say enough good things about the Baltimore City Cancer Program.
As one of 41 million uninsured Americans, she has nothing but praise for the early cancer detection effort aimed at working women who earn too much to be eligible for the government's Medicaid program, but who don't get health insurance from their employers.
"I am so grateful for the Baltimore City Cancer Program," said Myers, who had a cancerous tumor removed from her breast in September of 2002, after being diagnosed through the program. "There is no way that I would ever have been able to afford this treatment on my own."
The program provides free breast cancer screenings at five 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.
The program's budget comes from the Maryland Cigarette Restitution Fund, a statewide initiative established as a result of the state's tobacco industry settlement.
The Baltimore City Cancer Program's objectives are:
Although the program is open to all men and women over the age of 40 without health insurance, it targets African-American men and women. Despite the fact that statistics show that breast cancer is much more common among white women than black women, black women tend to die from the disease much more often.
"Because many African-American women don't have health insurance and can't afford to see a doctor on a regular basis, they are less likely to have their breast cancer diagnosed early enough to be treated successfully," explained Jimmie Drummond, Jr., M.D., medical director of the five UniversityCare family health centers.
Drummond, who is also a clinical assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said that in addition to screening, the program also sponsors community outreach and education. Health educators visit churches, malls, cultural festivals, nail salons and other venues where there is a possibility of reaching people at risk for cancer.
"This program is important because it saves lives," Drummond said. "Because of it, women aren't showing up in emergency rooms in the advanced stages of cancer."
Myers got the results of her initial, abnormal mammogram shortly after her 59th birthday in August 2002. Two weeks later, she got a second, diagnostic mammogram, which confirmed that she had a tumor.
"They did a biopsy on the tumor that same day, and a few days later called to tell me it was malignant," said Myers.
Myers' doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center decided to remove the tumor by performing a lumpectomy. This involves taking out the tumor, but sparing as much of the surrounding breast tissue as possible. Lumpectomies are usually followed by radiation therapy and sometimes chemotherapy to ensure that all of the cancer is eradicated.
Myers' surgery was scheduled for September 30th, only a few weeks after her diagnosis. The weeks leading up to the operation, however, were difficult for Myers. She said her surgeon, Bradford Carter, M.D., of the University of Maryland's division of surgical oncology and an associate professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, helped to alleviate her anxiety by answering all of her questions and providing her with a lot of information.
"I really like to know what is going on, and I ask a lot of questions," Myers said. "Dr. Carter put me at ease because he explained everything to me. He told me how he would locate the tumor's precise position, and exactly how he was going to remove it. He explained every little detail to my satisfaction."
Following her lumpectomy, Myers began a round of radiation treatments. By January of 2003, she had completed all 33 of them.
"The Baltimore City Cancer Program has really helped patients who otherwise would have presented with breast cancer at very advanced stages," said Myers' radiation oncologist, Edward Kiggundu, M.D., assistant professor of radiation oncology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "When a patient goes undiagnosed, they suffer excruciating pain and their odds for survival diminish."
For Myers, who has gone back to work, the timely treatment she received in the program has allowed her to resume her normal activities and retain her vibrant personality.
"I feel great," Myers said. "People tell me all of the time how good I look, and how I dont look sick. Honestly, I never really felt all that sick, just tired at the end of my [radiation] treatments."
Myers credits the care and attention she got in the program for much of her well-being.
"Everyone here has been so nice, sweet, loving and caring towards me," Myers said. "It really makes a difference when you know that your doctors really care."