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Local health groups team up to pamper – and protect

By Kathleen /The News Tribune

TACOMA, Wash. – On the list of delightful preventive health procedures, mammograms have floated somewhere between colonoscopies and teeth cleaning.

It’s no fun getting one’s boobs pressed as flat as possible so they can pose for the X-ray machine.

It’s even less fun not being able to afford a mammogram and worrying about what’s going on behind the bra.

The people at the Carol Milgard Breast Center in Tacoma solved the no-fun factor when they opened the new center in February. They pamper patients with fluffy robes and welcomes as warm as the mammogram machines.

In preventive medicine, making an uncomfortable procedure feel like a spa visit is brilliant. Once you’ve had a Milgard mammogram, you look forward to your next one.

On Thursday, at its first Detection is Protection event, the Milgard center and its collaborators worked on the access problem. They offered mammograms to 85 uninsured or underserved women.

The event was a complicated, expensive effort to reach the thousands of women in Pierce County who have poor access to mammograms. Organizers hope to do it again, but there are no immediate plans.

It was sponsored by the Breast Care Partnership of Tacoma, and by the Milgard center.

The center is quite a story itself. Dr. Khai Tran approached the Gary E. Milgard Family Foundation with the idea for the place. The foundation granted $5 million over five years to honor Carol Milgard, who was a 30-year breast cancer survivor.
In a rare collaboration between competitors, Franciscan Health System, MultiCare Health System and TRA Medical Imaging operate the center together.
Tran’s goal is to “shorten the time from door to diagnosis. Women were waiting weeks to find out if they had breast cancer,” said Alexis Wilson, the center’s executive director.

The wait is hellish, as anyone who’s had a problematic mammogram knows. The center has cut it to days, said Wilson, who is a breast cancer survivor.
This week’s special event was anything but hellish, as volunteers from the Carol Milgard Breast Health Society brought everything from tea and cookies to massages and aromatherapy.

Roxanne LaFave, 48, was scared, even before the mammogram. The single mom of three is proud that her eldest son has served three tours in Iraq and the younger ones are in school.

She owns a business but cannot afford health insurance. She saved to pay for a physical exam, during which her doctor advised her to get a mammogram, and soon. She was saving the $400 for it when she heard about the event, which was free for many participants.

LaFave’s family has a history of breast cancer, she said, but she has not been able to afford a mammogram since 2006.

Tam Phan, 50, has never had a mammogram, she said through Xuan Man, one of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department interpreters at the event. Phan, a single mom of two, works at Goodwill Industries in Tacoma, but can’t afford health insurance.

“She knows having it is important,” Man said for Phan. “She is so happy to have it. If they discover something, it probably will be taken care of.”

In a center blooming with pink balloons, that odd mix of trepidation and solidarity felt right.

“Everybody is in the same boat,” LaFave said. “I don’t feel out of place. Here, we all relate. If someone is a little anxious, everyone understands.”

Phan felt fortunate beyond all the pampering.

“She has friends who need this,” Xuan said. “They have not had the mammogram done. It’s an insurance issue.”

“We work,” LaFave said. “It’s not that we don’t work hard. You have to weigh your priorities: Your house payment or insurance.”

She’s frustrated with the debate over health care. If she has cancer, she has no idea how she’ll pay to fight it.

She made a rhetorical challenge to Congress: “Wear my shoes,” she said. “Walk in my shoes.”

To the Milgard staff and volunteers, she said, “Thank you. Thank you.”

Click here to read article on The News Tribune website.

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