Since 2009, the Carol Milgard Breast Center has stood on the front lines of the fight against breast cancer along with Pierce County residents. By the numbers, breast cancer is impacting fewer lives today than it was a decade ago, however health disparities are still present. Aggressive campaigns to educate women about breast health have helped to cut down the mortality rate for cancer patients. Preventative measures, such as making screening services available and spreading the word about performing regular self-exams, are also leading to more instances of early detection. When caught soon enough, patients have a real fighting chance to win in their battle against cancer.
But what about the women who are most affected by breast disease and who may not have the resources to receive treatment? In 2011, the Carol Milgard Breast Center’s board of directors wanted to learn how the organization could best target underserved and at-risk populations in Pierce County with outreach and mammography services. The CMBC commissioned the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department to assess the South Sound community.
The study revealed that in Pierce County African-American women diagnosed at a regional or distant stage are more likely to die of breast cancer than other women diagnosed at the same stage. This same group of women was also more likely to die at a younger age from breast cancer than any other race. The study also revealed that breast cancer death rates and premature death from breast cancer occurred in higher incidences in Tacoma than any other city within Pierce County, despite relatively high rates of mammography screening. Furthermore, the incidence, hospitalization for and death due to cancer increased dramatically with age in the same region.
“The statistics are bleak and just unacceptable,” says Jackie Ostrom, executive director of the Carol Milgard Breast Center. The CMBC’s board directed staff to dig further to learn more about cultural and behavioral patterns that may play a role in the diagnosis and occurrence of breast cancer in African-American women.
The 2015 Health Equity Assessment prepared by the Tacoma Pierce Country of health indicated that African-American and Native Americans communities suffer the highest incidence of terminal cancer. Social aspects can contribute to differences in breast cancer outcomes as well. Obstacles that stand between these at-risk communities and treatment can include lack of access to transportation, lack availability of appropriate services, access to affordable healthcare, discrimination-related issues such as class, race or citizenship, a history of medical mistreatment or exploitation, as well as language or cultural barriers.
Enter FaithHealth in Action, an outreach and education program created by the Carol Milgard Breast Center and in response to this research. Beginning in 2016, the breast center began a partnership with local African-American churches to raise awareness about breast and prostate cancer. The aim of this initiative is to reduce mortality rates among African-American women and men in Pierce County. FaithHealth in Action will open applications in May 2017 to welcome another cohort of churches in the Fall of 2017.
“There is a lot of work ahead of us to begin to impact that cancer disparity in Pierce County,” says Pam Russell, project manager for FaithHealth in Action. “The breast center’s investment in this program is helping to save lives and increase survivorship.”
“As we were developing the church initiative,” says Ostrom, “our goal was to improve education and awareness about breast and prostate cancer and improve screening rates, particularly for those 40 and older, and who are underserved, low-income, or have a family history of breast or prostate cancer. Health ministers WHO partner with FaithHealth in Action will be trained to deliver cancer prevention education to their congregations under the guidance of Carol Milgard Breast Center, the American Cancer Society, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, Northwest Leadership Foundation and the Leaders in Women’s Health.
“A lot of what we do is beyond just education and encouraging people to take action,” Ostrom explains. “We want to help women and men develop supportive relationships. Particularly for women, we want to demystify the experience of having a mammogram.”
She adds, “Through FaithHealth in Action, we sponsor two screening events a year, where we have fun, offer transportation to the clinic, and arrange for insurance or financial support, if needed, for the mammograms. After the mammogram, we have refreshments, socializing, spa treatments and gift bags. But in the midst of creating fun, our work is serious. Essentially, we want to save lives and change the narrative for African-American women and men for the better.”
A Legacy of Community Outreach Saves Lives
Community service was always a priority for Carol Milgard, wife of Milgard Windows founder, Gary Milgard. She believed it was important to give back in to the Tacoma Community in order to fully receive what we ourselves have been given. When she and her husband established the Gary E. Milgard Family Foundation, Carol was empowered to improve the overall health of South Sound communities as a whole.
Carol was a long-time Tacoma resident, philanthropist and 30-year breast cancer survivor. Her experience with fighting breast cancer inspired her family to establish the Carol Milgard Breast Center, a place for patients in Tacoma-Pierce County to receive sustainable and streamlined service for breast health. With the help of a founding gift from the Milgard Family foundation, the breast center opened its doors in February 2009.
By offering patients mammography, biopsy and diagnostic services in one centralized location, CMBC has expedited screening, treatment and recovery for roughly 35,000 cancer patients each year. Traditionally, this process from screening mammogram to diagnosis took six weeks or more; thanks to the CMBC, that time frame has been cut down to an average of nine days. The facility offers a safe, comfortable and respectful environment, integrating care and compassion.
Patient-centered care is the founding tenet of the Carol Milgard Breast Center, and examples of their outreach can be seen in the form of their Bridging Care and Spiritual Care Programs. The breast center stands apart from other clinics when it comes to education and outreach. Leaders in Women’s Health and their newest annual outreach program, FaithHealth in Action, are programs dedicated to breast health education for underserved women at risk. Accessibility is where the Carol Milgard Breast Center really shines, providing care for all patients regardless of ability to pay. Patients who are uninsured, underinsured or have problems getting access to care all find an invaluable resource in the caring team on site.
In addition to a top-tier team of healthcare providers and wellness advocates, the breast center relies on dozens volunteers who generously donate their time each year. Thirty volunteers contributed nearly 400 hours in 2016, many of whom individuals that helped orchestrate special breast cancer screenings, community outreach and activities like Pink at the Park.
For more details about how you or a loved one can take advantage of services, visit the Carol Milgard Breast Center website or call them at 253-759-2622. The CMBC is located at 4525 S 19th St, Tacoma, WA 98405.
In February 2017, the CMBC will hold a Women of Color Screening event, which will provide mammograms at no cost to women, breast health education and free spa services.
Information regarding the FaithHealth in Action Program can be found here.
Volunteer inquiries can be made to Barb Fox at 253-680-3596 as well as online.