Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Free mammograms offered to women over 40

In 2008, the keynote speaker for the Healthy Heritage Wellness Conference, Nikia Hammonds-Blakely, then 29, told her story of surviving breast cancer as a teenager. During the 2009 conference, taking place Aug. 1 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at California Baptist University in Riverside, low-income, uninsured women over 40 can receive free mammograms, even if they do not attend the conference itself. Photo by Chris Sloan

(RIVERSIDE, Calif.) Women 40 years of age and older, who are low income and have no medical coverage, can obtain free mammograms on Saturday, Aug. 1.

The Southern California Witness Project has arranged to provide mammogram screening in a specially equipped mobile clinic at the Healthy Heritage Wellness Conference at California Baptist University, 8432 Magnolia Ave. in Riverside.

“Many women who are over 40 and uninsured are not getting mammogram screening,” said Edith Nevins, Southern California Witness Project program coordinator. “We press on to educate and offer this program. Our motto is breast cancer is not a death sentence.”

Screening is also available for women younger than 40 who already have a history of breast cancer, but lack resources to pay for medical care.

To avoid long lines, women should register in advance by calling The Witness Project, (951) 485-9334. Ask for Helen, Mrs. Nevins or Deborah. Spanish speakers should ask for Susanna List, the program coordinator for Esperanza Y Vida.

Nevins, who is a retired nurse, and a team of volunteers take information to wherever attentive groups of women may be gathered. Their organization is part of the Quinn Community Outreach Corp in Moreno Valley, which also sponsors a similar Spanish-language program called Esperanza Y Vida.

“We have had community presentations in English and Spanish, at churches and schools, wherever we could speak to more than five people,” Nevins said. “We work to educate women seven days a week, in the evenings and on weekends. We attend health fairs, wherever we can go.”

Although the Healthy Heritage Wellness Conference itself is geared primarily to African-Americans, women of all ethnicities are encouraged to register for the mammogram screenings. It is not necessary to attend the conference to receive a mammogram screening.

Southern California Witness Project especially targets African-Americans, and Esperanza Y Vida targets all Latinas. Studies have found these two ethnic groups are 70 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than Caucasians.

One reason is because a type of tumor known as triple negative is much more prevalent among Blacks and Hispanic than among white women, according to information from the American Cancer Society.

In fact, 39 percent of Black women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer before reaching menopause have this type of tumor, which is harder to cure than other forms of breast cancer. In the general population, only 14 percent of all breast cancer patients have this type of tumor. New medications have been developed this year that show promise to increase survival rates for women with this type of cancer, but as with all forms of breast cancer, early detection is crucial.

Clark encourages Black women who qualify for the free mammograms to register for both events. She also noted that since many African-American women have health insurance and do not meet the guidelines for “low income,” they may prefer to make arrangements with their own physicians to schedule a mammogram.

However, low-income Spanish-speaking women are often not insured, so this may be an ideal opportunity for them to have this potentially life-saving screening.

Another reason for Spanish-speaking women to participate, Nevins said, is they will not face a language barrier at this screening. The Esperanza Y Vida program will provide bilingual women to assist with the exam, tell their own stories of breast cancer survival and provide Spanish-language information about breast self-exams.

Quinn Community Outreach Corporation is an affiliate ministry of Quinn African Methodist Episcopal Church in Moreno Valley. The Riverside Community Health Foundation, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure of the Inland Empire and the Avon Foundation, also sponsor the Witness Project and Esperanza Y Vida.

The Healthy Heritage Wellness Conference, designed to help African-Americans and others develop strategies for healthier living, takes place at California Baptist University, from 8 a.m. to approximately 4 p.m. Participants in the Healthy Heritage Wellness Conference will be able to obtain information from local health care providers, and receive basic health screenings and referrals for other free or low-cost preventive health care services.

The 2009 conference is limited to 200 people, so advance registration is necessary. For more information or make a reservation to attend the Healthy Heritage Wellness Conference call (951) 288-4375 or e-mail

Sponsorships for this year’s conference are still available. They include The American Cancer Society, Pharmaceutical and Research Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), The Purpose Center, City of Hope, the Riverside Community Health Foundation, Inland Agency, Abbott, and Dameron Communications.