North Carolina Breast & Cervical Cancer Control Program provides free, low-cost screenings
Validia Ferguson had two primary fears when she was diagnosed with breast cancer back in May.
The first one, of course, was for her health. The second fear, though, was for her family’s financial health.
“I was thinking, ‘Oh my god, where in the world is the money gonna come from for this?’” the High Point woman says. “We’ve got no insurance, no nothing. I was wondering how in the world this was gonna get done. But God made a way, and I was truly thankful for it.”
Fortunately for Ferguson, her cancer care was covered under the umbrella of the North Carolina Breast & Cervical Cancer Control Program – or NC-BCCCP – a federally funded program that provides free or low-cost breast and cervical cancer screenings and follow-up care to eligible women in North Carolina.
High Point Regional Health System established the first BCCCP program in Guilford County when it began offering the program in February, according to Danette Canup, manager of radiation oncology and clinical research.
Since the program’s implementation, approximately 300 local women have received breast and cervical cancer screenings, and seven received a cancer diagnosis, Canup said.
“Most of the time, women who get breast cancer are going to be over 50, but more than half of the ones we diagnosed are under 50,” she said, which further emphasizes the importance of the screenings.
One of those women was Ferguson, who is only 43. She had never had a mammogram.
In late May, though, Ferguson began experiencing soreness in her left arm that ultimately led her to High Point Regional.
“I didn’t think much about it at first,” she said. “My job was as a housekeeper, so I was thinking I was sore from using my mop or my broom, but my arm just kept getting sorer and sorer.”
Then she felt a lump under her arm and wondered if it was some kind of reaction to the deodorant she’d been using, so she switched deodorants. When that didn’t work, and the pain kept worsening, Ferguson had her husband Joe take her to the emergency room, where doctors told her they suspected breast cancer and referred her for more testing at the health system’s Hayworth Cancer Center.
It was there that Ferguson learned about NC-BCCCP, which paid for her mammogram and a subsequent biopsy. After she was diagnosed with breast cancer, the program paid for her double mastectomy and for the chemotherapy treatments she’s currently receiving. It will also pay for radiation treatments when she’s done with chemo.
According to Canup, NC-BCCCP is designed to keep women such as Ferguson from falling through the cracks and not receiving the medical care they need.
“We have a target group of women who do not have Medicare, Medicaid or any insurance coverage for mammography,” Canup explained.
“There are several criteria. Since it is a screening program, our target group is women between the ages of 40 and 64. However, we will see patients younger than 40 and older than 64 if they are having problems and if we still have any money to screen them. The other thing is the family income has to be less than or equal to 250 percent of the poverty level, and they have to be a U.S. citizen.”
Women who are determined eligible for the program are examined by a nurse practitioner, who will perform a clinical breast exam and a pelvic exam – with a Pap test if needed – and refer the patient for a screening mammogram if she hasn’t had one within the past year.
In addition, the program covers a woman’s treatment if she’s diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer.
“If an individual is found to have a pathologically proven diagnosis of cancer, whether breast or cervical, they will meet with our social worker here at the hospital, and the social worker will enroll them in BCCCP Medicaid, which is different from routine Medicaid,” Canup explained. “And that means from the date of their pathology report forward, all of their cancer care will be covered under the BCCCP Medicaid program, if they’re approved.”
According to Canup, the program addresses an obvious need in the High Point community. The BCCCP clinic is currently held on Wednesday afternoons, but it’s about to be expanded to all day because of the need, she said.
“We had projected to see about five women per week, but we’re seeing 10 to 13 women a week, and we’re booked out through February,” she said. “So there’s definitely a need. And if you ask those women who were diagnosed, they would say it was invaluable to them.”
That’s certainly the case for Validia Ferguson.
“It was truly a blessing,” she said.