As National Breast Cancer Awareness Month returns this October, various health agencies throughout North Snohomish County are reminding women of their diagnosis and treatment options, to help them identify and respond to cases of breast cancer in time to save lives.
Sea Mar Community Health Center of Marysville
Jasmine Potter, the nursing supervisor at Sea Mar in Marysville, explained that Sea Mar’s main role lies in screening for cancer. She touted this role as especially important since Sea Mar serves a number of clients for whom English is a second language or insurance coverage is not an option.
“A mobile mammography unit comes here every month to every other month,” Potter said. “If our screenings yield suspicious findings, we refer them on to other providers. We partner with so many other agencies that we’re often able to get those services greatly reduced or at no cost to our clients.”
Sea Mar takes into account factors such as age, low income levels and family histories of cancers to try and provide access to as many clients as possible. The Breast, Cervical & Colon Health Program of Washington state is one of their partners in this endeavor.
“If our clients are eligible, we can even get their mammographies paid for,” said Potter, who also touted Sea Mar’s work with Familias Unidas to provide counseling, advocacy and information services to clients regardless of culture or ethnicity. “We can do a certain amount of lab work in house, but a lot of our work is on the phone, scheduling appointments and followups with folks who might not be comfortable speaking in English.”
Sea Mar’s customer service likewise includes assistance in applying for insurance and filling out forms for the state Department of Social and Health Services.
The Sea Mar Community Health Center of Marysville is located at 9710 State Ave. and can be called at 360-653-1742. For more information, log onto www.seamarchc.org.
Everett Clinic at Smokey Point
Liz DeGraw works in the mammography department at the Everett Clinic’s new Smokey Point branch, which provides screening and mammography services, but not diagnostic.
“Once patients know they have a problem, we usually refer them over to Providence,” DeGraw said. “We use our resources to detect the possibility of anything unusual, but Providence provides a better look. They’re the problem-solvers, but we’ll detect if the problem exists.”
DeGraw expressed pride in the Smokey Point Everett Clinic’s modern mammography machines, whose state-of-the-art digital displays offer high-resolution detail, as well as the seven mammographers on staff. She acknowledged that there’s currently a difference of opinion between the American Cancer Society and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force on the frequency with which mammographies should be conducted.
“The ACS recommends starting yearly mammograms at the age of 40 and continuing them as long as you’re healthy, while the USPSTF recommends waiting until 50 to have mammograms done every two years until you’re 74, although they do say you can start as early as 40 if you discuss the risks with a doctor,” DeGraw said. “It’s up to the patient to talk with their primary care providers, although most insurance will cover yearly mammograms.”
According to DeGraw, the Smokey Point Everett Clinic occasionally conducts breast MRIs, but refers breast ultrasounds to Providence. She credited advances in screening over the course of the past two decades with dramatically reducing deaths due to breast cancer.
“The technology is so superior that we can find it before you even feel it,” DeGraw said. “You’ll have the peace of mind of knowing that we’re detecting it at its earliest stages.”
The Everett Clinic at Smokey Point is located at 2901 174th St. NE and can be called at 360-454-1900. For more information, log onto www.everettclinic.com.
Cascade Valley Hospital in Arlington
Staff members of Cascade Valley Hospital expressed pride in their broad scope of screening and diagnostic services, including not only standard mammograms and breast ultrasounds, but also galactograms and biopsies.
“Some days we’re able to schedule biopsies on the same day,” said Jacqueline Johnson, imaging director for Cascade Valley Hospital, who also noted the hospital’s radiology services and its six mammography technicians, including herself. “We’re usually able to get them in within the week.”
Like DeGraw, Johnson described her technology as top-notch and complimented her coworkers for providing a personalized, almost familial feel to their services, which in the case of Cascade Valley Hospital includes Wednesday night mammograms, every half-hour from 5-7:30 p.m. throughout the month of October. These weekly events during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month have even included 15-minute massage sessions from the Denton Massage School of Arlington, as well as special surprise gifts for the final patients of each evening.
“They get light tea and treats like pink lip balm,” said Catherine Russell, community relations director for Cascade Valley Hospital. “We have patients who schedule their their annual mammograms for October each year just for those Wednesday nights.”
Johnson added that patients could benefit from another upgrade in services soon, since the Cascade Valley Hospital Foundation has committed to purchasing a fluoroscopy chair, which hospital staff plan to use for mammograms, galactograms and biopsies for those who have difficulty standing unassisted or tire easily.
Not only did Johnson and Russell echo DeGraw’s advocacy for early detection, but Cascade Valley Hospital radiology technician Donna Marler reminded men that they make up 10 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses.
“Just because you don’t have a family history of breast cancer, it doesn’t mean you’re safe, since 80 percent of all women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of it,” Marler said. “You don’t need a doctor’s referral to schedule an appointment.”
“Anybody can be referred to us, whether or not they’re a patient at one of our clinics,” Russell said.
Cascade Valley Hospital in Arlington is located at 330 S. Stillaguamish Ave. and can be called at 360-435-2133, or 360-435-0515 to schedule an appointment. For more information, log onto www.cascadevalley.org.
Cascade Skagit Health Alliance in Arlington
Cascade Valley Hospital and the Cascade Skagit Health Alliance in Arlington each offer their own MRI, but the Cascade Skagit Health Alliance also serves as the site for the Skagit Valley Hospital Regional Cancer Care Center.
“We can do chemo, lab draws, MRIs and X-rays,” said Linda Harrison, unit assistant for the Skagit Valley Hospital Regional Cancer Care Center at the Cascade Skagit Health Alliance. “For radiation and PET scans, we usually send people to Mount Vernon, but we’re all connected to the same doctors here.”
Harrison explained that the services currently housed under one roof at the Cascade Skagit Health Alliance were previously provided at two separate locations, in Arlington and Smokey Point, but emphasized that the staff of the Skagit Valley Hospital Regional Cancer Care Center in Arlington has developed a familiarity with their clients.
“We know just about all the names of our patients and what they need as soon as they walk in the door,” Harrison said. “At bigger facilities, you don’t get that. You’re just a number at those places.”
“These nurses are like family,” said Tiffany Cross, who started her treatments at the Skagit Valley Hospital three and a half years ago before moving over to the Regional Cancer Care Center at the Cascade Skagit Health Alliance. “When I came here, I already knew all the same nurses. Nothing goes unseen. Nothing gets written off.”
Harrison noted that on-site pharmacists such as Hau Dong mix the chemotherapy drugs just down the hall from where the patients receive their treatments.
“We’re even able to do biopsies right in the rooms,” said Veronica Tinoco, one of the nurses at the Regional Cancer Care Center in Arlington.
The Cascade Skagit Health Alliance in Arlington is located at 3823 172nd St. NE and can be called at 360-618-5000. For more information, log onto www.cascadeskagithealth.org.
Providence Comprehensive Breast Center of Everett
“We’re committed to providing care whether people can pay for it or not,” said Gayle Jago, manager of the Providence Comprehensive Breast Center. “Providence has the latest technology and surgical capabilities. Our MRIs and nuclear medicine are right up there with the big names, so that patients in this region don’t have to go to Seattle to get the care they need. We respect where our patients want to go.”
Jago touted Providence’s stereotactic surgery, which employs three-dimensional mapping to make surgical intervention minimally invasive, and characterized Providence’s dedicated nurse practitioners as rigorous in their risk assessments, which she cited as especially important to women in Washington state.
“Washington has the fifth highest level of breast cancer of any state in the country, and Snohomish and King counties are higher than the state average,” Jago said. “One in eight women overall will develop breast cancer during their lifetimes. We all know someone who’s been touched by breast cancer.”
Providence schedules frequent screenings, mammograms, diagnostic and “coordinated journeys” according to Jago, who added that Providence also supports events such as the Everett Silvertips Hockey Club’s “Pink the Rink” on Saturday, Oct. 27, to try and reinvest in the community and those in need.
“It costs $150 to get a screening and a mammogram,” Jago said. “That seems like such an absurd thing that should stand between you and your life. Don’t let your inability to pay prevent you from obtaining that care. It doesn’t matter if you’re insured or not. We’ll work with you.”
The Providence Comprehensive Breast Center of Everett is located at 900 Pacific Ave. and can be called at 425-261-2000. For more information, log onto www2.providence.org/northwest-washington/providence-regional-medical-center-everett.
Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest
Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, which has offices in Marysville and Everett, emphasized that it’s not just women who are 40 years and older who need to be attentive toward their breast health.
“Women under 40 too often aren’t aware of their own breast health,” said Dr. Cam McIntyre, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest. “They dismiss a lump as something that doesn’t need attention, or are paralyzed by fear. Waiting can change the course of a woman’s life, and that’s why Planned Parenthood is urging women to see their health care professionals if they notice changes in their breasts.”
Of Planned Parenthood’s patients in Snohomish County, 94 percent are under the age of 40. Although McIntyre acknowledged that women under 40 make up a small portion of the total number of women diagnosed with breast cancer every year, she warned that, when cancer does occur, it is often aggressive.
Last year, Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest’s doctors and nurses provided more than 15,440 breast exams to young women. If a Planned Parenthood provider finds an abnormality during an exam, the patient is referred to a breast specialist for further examination, which may include diagnostic tests, such as an ultrasound or biopsy. Planned Parenthood health care professionals also inform young women of factors that can reduce their breast cancer risk, among them getting regular exercise and limiting their alcohol intake.
Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest’s recently established diagnostic grant program helps to cover the costs of these tests for patients when possible, since the tests can be costly, especially for uninsured and low-income women. McIntyre cited studies showing that Hispanic Americans tend not to get screened for common cancers, such as breast cancer, as regularly as non-Hispanic whites, and added that Hispanic women are 20 percent more likely to die from breast cancer when compared to non-Hispanic white women diagnosed at similar ages and stages.
“Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among Latinas, and improving health outcomes starts with educating women and their families about the risk of ignoring potential problems,” McIntyre said. “Latinas are sometimes reluctant to seek care due to a language barrier or lack of insurance. Planned Parenthood educators are speaking with Latinas in their communities about the importance of screening and connecting women to health care services, helping them take control of their health.”
To schedule an appointment at the Marysville or Everett Planned Parenthood health centers, call 1-800-230-7526 (PLAN) or log onto www.ppgnw.org.