St. Vincent Healthcare’s Mobile Mammography Coach provides lifesaving screenings to all women, especially in rural areas.
Sue O’Donnell was always diligent about scheduling her mammogram screenings, but in 2020 she put it off, hesitant to visit a healthcare facility during the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, when she noticed the St. Vincent Healthcare Mobile Mammography Coach in her area, she decided to call for an appointment.
“It’s wonderful that they travel all over,” said O’Donnell, 71, a retired teacher who lives near Billings. “It meets the needs of women with busy schedules and women like me who don’t want to travel to a busy hospital.”
O’Donnell’s mammogram revealed a lump. The finding resulted in a biopsy, which led to a cancer diagnosis. She soon began chemotherapy, followed by radiation and surgery to remove both breasts and 14 lymph nodes.
Today, O’Donnell has “no evidence of cancer,” and she’s grateful that she didn’t postpone her annual screening a moment longer.
Removing the barriers
Breast cancer leads new cancer diagnoses in the state of Montana. One in eight women will face breast cancer in their lifetime, and 75% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no particular identifiable risk factors. Regular mammogram screenings are the key to early diagnosis and treatment.
“The earlier we find it, the better the survival rate,” said Pam Kaufman, manager of breast imaging and mobile mammography for St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings. “It’s such a curable disease if we find it early.”
A mammogram is an important tool that empowers women to take control of their health. Yet, yearly mammograms can be seen as an inconvenience for many women, especially if they live in remote areas. To push back against that argument, the Mobile Coach hit the road in 2010. Since then, 29,000 women have had their mammograms in the mobile unit, and more than 160 breast cancers have been diagnosed.
Tyler Wiltgen, executive director of the St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation, which raises money to support mobile mammography and other programs, said donors are essential to providing the latest healthcare services.
“The mobile coach is an example of the power of philanthropy. It allows us to reach more of the communities we serve by bringing this critical service to them,” Wiltgen said. “Ultimately, it saves more lives because it ensures that access is not an issue.”
Mobile mammography is such a powerful tool that St. Vincent’s sister hospital in Butte, St. James Healthcare, is currently fundraising to raise the $800,000 needed to launch an additional mobile mammography coach. Jerri Doyle, Oncology Service Line Director for St. James, hopes the mobile unit will be on the road and ready to serve the state’s western side by 2023.
“It’s crucial for the women in our communities,” said Kacie Bartholomew, director of the St. James Healthcare Foundation, which is leading the fundraising effort. “Montana has one of the lowest mammogram screening rates in America, and southwest Montana is even lower.”
Is your screening current?
It is recommended that most women begin receiving an annual mammogram at age 40. However, it’s important to consult with your health care provider to determine exactly what’s right for you. When breast cancer follow-up services are needed, SCL Health will link women to culturally sensitive patient resources.
Visit our website to learn more about mammography and schedule an appointment. To learn when the Mobile Mammography Coach will be near you, call 406-237-4373.