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Making Mammography a Priority
After Delaying Screening for 5 Years, Anita Gets a Quick and Convenient 3D Mammogram on Henry Ford’s Mobile Mammography Bus
On one of those warm autumn afternoons when people in Michigan savor the last bits of summer, Anita Millers walked home from a physical therapy session at Henry Ford Medical Center-Cottage in Grosse Pointe Farms, just weeks after a knee replacement. She stopped when she saw a big blue mobile mammography bus in the medical center parking lot. The fall colors – orange, gold and red – created a perfect background. She checked the lighting and snapped a photo.
The picture would be sent to a friend, a breast cancer survivor in Eastern Europe who had started the Pink Train Foundation to raise funds for other breast cancer survivors in Latvia.
Just then, a woman in pink scrubs returned from her lunch break and approached the bus.
Says Rachel Porte, a registered mammography technologist at Henry Ford, “I asked if there was anything I could do for her and if she needed a mammogram. She didn’t have a doctor’s order, and it had been five years since her last mammogram. She was surprised when I told her we could do a mammogram right now if she wanted one.
“I’m always passionate about helping women receive early detection for breast cancer,” says Rachel, whose aunt is a breast cancer survivor. “We never turn anyone away if they want a mammogram. When women don’t have insurance, some self-pay and others contact our financial services office to discuss possible payment plans.”
New culture, old stigma
“The seemingly small gesture of engaging with patients is a deliberate part of our culture,” says Jennifer Balaska, a radiology and medical imaging supervisor at Henry Ford Medical Center – Cottage. “We ask people if there is anything we can do to help, and then we take the next step to help them.” Decades ago, Anita’s mom may have asked herself a similar question. When Latvia was still part of the Soviet Union, the culture was very different. “At that time, there was a lot of stigma attached to cancer and cancer survivors,” says Anita, a Latvian American whose great aunts and several close friends had breast cancer. “There weren’t many organizations to help. Women living on the countryside had cows to milk and crops to tend. Travel was difficult, and small country hospitals didn’t have the facilities to treat women or provide all the needed services.”
For that reason, Anita’s mom paid for special bras with prostheses to be sent to women in Latvia who had undergone a mastectomy. Eventually, her mother would develop cancer, and her memorial fund would provide more help for a greater number of breast cancer survivors in Latvia.
Priority versus opportunity
In 2015, Anita, a former litigation attorney, spent a year in Latvia. She taught English at the private school her teenaged daughter attended, while her husband, Marcis Jansons, a Fulbright scholar and associate professor of mechanical engineering at Wayne State University, taught at Riga Technical University. While in Latvia, Anita received a mailer advertising a free mammogram provided by the current government’s health system. However, she declined, having had a mammogram before she left the U.S.
Fast forward five years. Inside the mammography bus, everyone was wearing a face mask, and it was clean and sanitized, says Anita, aware of COVID-19 concerns. “I didn’t feel compromised in any way. The staff put me at ease, and the whole process took only 10 or 15 minutes. It was fast and efficient,” she says.
“As women, we often put family, friends and pets above our needs. But it’s important to take care of ourselves, too. When an opportunity presents itself, try to take it, or it might not present itself again.”
Currently, the big blue mammography bus is parked at Henry Ford Medical Center - Cottage on Wednesdays. At other times, it travels to locations around the greater Detroit area, to the outer-ring suburb of Richmond, and to the rural area of Bruce Township.
The Henry Ford mammography bus provides 3D imaging, which offers more benefits to women diagnosed with dense breasts. Additionally, Henry Ford provides breast cancer screening at easy access locations across Southeast and Southcentral Michigan, offering extended weekday hours, convenient weekend hours and enhanced measures in place to keep patients safe.