Op-Ed: October reminds us that cancer is a year-round threat

Shelby Guzman | September 28, 2020 | Health Care, Opinion
Breast Cancer Awareness Month reinforces the importance of screening and early detection to help save lives
Shelby Guzman

As a nurse case manager for the NJ Cancer Education and Early Detection program (NJCEED), I help patients receive free cancer screenings based on their gender, age and family history.

Recently, I found myself walking down a clinic hallway beside a woman who had come for a breast cancer screening. She told me that screening is a high priority and she never misses her mammogram appointment.

Is she considered high risk? No. Family history? No. Instead, she spoke of her friend, the mother of two young sons, who passed away from an aggressive metastatic breast cancer at an extremely young age.

Her story reminds us that cancer does not stop because there’s a pandemic. Indeed, it is more important than ever to stay on top of your health care.

NJCEED is a state and federally funded program providing comprehensive screening services for breast, cervical, prostate and colorectal cancer. Studies show these cancers can be treated more effectively when found early.

Services provided through 21 contracted lead agencies, with Trenton Health Team as the lead agency for Mercer County, include education, outreach, early detection, case management, screening, tracking and follow-up, all at no cost to eligible participants. Individuals can qualify for free screenings if they are uninsured or underinsured, or have incomes at or below 250% of the federal poverty level for their household size — about $65,000 for a family of four.

Access to health care is a challenge

Many of our NJCEED patients are immigrants who are not eligible for health insurance due to citizenship status; while others could apply for Affordable Care Act coverage, they cannot afford the high monthly premium. So access to health care is always a challenge. When the coronavirus pandemic began, obtaining health care became even more difficult as routine screening services and even follow-up diagnostic services temporarily came to a halt.

Trenton Health Team recently received approval to begin reaching out to new and previous patients to schedule cancer screenings through NJCEED — so there is no longer any reason to delay.

Check with your health care provider to see if you are due for cancer screening services — and if so, make an appointment! Remember to check in with your friends and family members to see if they have done their cancer screenings.

Don’t wait for something to feel wrong before seeking care. And if something doesn’t feel right, call immediately to schedule your appointment as soon as possible.

Contact your county NJCEED agency. You may qualify for free screenings. Mercer County residents interested can call 609-888-6189.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but we need to be aware of cancer’s threat year-round — even during a pandemic. Screening saves lives and early detection is the best protection.