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Free cancer screening program for women continues to expand in Virginia

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PETERSBURG, Va. (WAVY) — A state program that helps women with no insurance get free cancer screenings is expanding throughout Virginia.

Every Woman’s Life has been in Virginia since 1997 and about 6,400 women are expected to be enrolled this year, according to the Virginia Department of Health, which oversees the program. 

It gives women with no insurance, who are between the ages of 40 and 64, free breast and cervical cancer screenings. Women who are between 18 and 39 years old can also receive screenings, if they have symptoms and need a diagnosis.

The program is funded with federal and state dollars. According to the health department, the Commonwealth receives about $2.5 million each year from the CDC for it. About $406,000 comes from the state.  

There are about 25 hospitals in Virginia participating in the program. Click here or call 1 (866) 395-4968 to find out which hospital is nearest to you.

“She explained to me that she sees some-,” Nina Stanley paused. “Something.” 

That’s what a doctor told the 52-year-old Chesterfield mom after having a mammogram for the first time last month. 

“So I thought the worst,” she added. 

Stanley pushed off getting annual cancer screenings because she didn’t have insurance. She has a family business and coverage isn’t affordable. Usually, her family pays the doctor out of pocket. 

“I pay for everything,” Stanley explained with tears in her eyes. “I don’t look for anything free.” But with a pain in her chest, she put her health first and called the doctor.

That’s when she was referred to the Every Woman’s Life program. 

The doctors taking care of Stanley at Southside Regional Medical Center did a second test and found that the “something” was just a number of cysts in her breast, not cancer. 

“That’s when tears came to my eyes,” Stanley said. A sense of relief for her and her family. 

Doctors say women at 40 years old should get mammograms annually. Depending on the doctor and consideration of the patient, women are encouraged to get a Pap test either every year or every other year. Women should have pelvic exams annually.

“I tell patients all of the time and stress to them, ‘I want to see you next year, I want to see you next year,'” Dr. Daphne Bazile-Harrison, an OBGYN at Southside Regional, said. 

But Dr. Bazile-Harrison says patients are always thinking about the costs of their doctors’ visit. 

“Am I going to get health insurance for myself or am I going to pay my rent, feed my children – you’re going to put yourself last,” she explained.

When patients don’t show up for these yearly check-ups, doctors get concerned. They say it’s easier to treat cancer if caught early. 

“There’s so much fear about the unknown, what does a mammogram feel like we just don’t do things because we’re afraid of what could potentially have happen,” Dr. Sasa  Espino, a Breast Surgeon at Southside Regional, said. “The earlier that we catch anything even if it’s a nothing – which is great – like [Stanley],  the better it is for you and your family.” 

If a woman enrolled in the program is diagnosed with cancer, their treatment may be covered by Medicaid under the Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention Treatment ACT. Coverage ends after treatment is completed. Eligibility for this coverage is determined by the women’s local Department of Social Services office. 

“With Every Woman’s Life they have it expedited application process to be assigned Medicaid, so it’s a ten-day turnaround,” Jennifer Raymond, the Every Woman’s Life Coordinator at Southside Regional, said. 

If a woman cannot receive coverage under Medicaid, health department officials say the partner hospitals will work with the patient to find another option.  

For patients like Stanley, the program gives them a sense of relief. If another person needs help, she says they should take the chance and ask for it. 

“People were telling me there was help out there…but my pride wouldn’t let me,” Stanley said. “But if there’s help out there, most people say you pay for what you get – you get what you pay for. Everything free is not always a bad thing.” 

Click here for the full list of eligibility requirements. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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