For so many women, the COVID-19 pandemic has posed a crippling barrier for preventative cancer care.
Cancer screenings, diagnoses, reconstructive surgery and follow-ups have been critically delayed due to hospitals being overwhelmed by the surge of COVID-19 patients.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the total number of cancer screening tests have sharply declined by 87% for breast cancer and 84% percent for cervical cancer during April 2020 in comparison to previous 5-year averages, according to the CDC.
A passionate advocate for uninsured Texans, The Rose’s Dorothy Gibbons knows this story of pandemic disruption all too well. In her work providing affordable mammograms and screenings, Gibbons has seen a marked decrease in patients seeking mammograms during the pandemic, and the implications deeply concern her.
“So many women delayed their mammogram during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” Gibbons said. “So, we'll see more advanced disease and a lot more uninsured coming in. They are our toughest cases and the ones that take all of our resources. We diagnose 300 to 500 women every year and half of those women are uninsured. That's where our work really is.”
Those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and women who are at a higher risk for breast cancer have faced a real quagmire of challenges. Some women are afraid of going to medical appointments in the wake of highly transmissible variants or wondering if they should delay their treatments.
Early detection and treatment are essential keys that will improve survival and longevity of life. In keeping with her promise to provide accessible breast care, Gibbons began rolling out The Rose Mobile Mammography Health Coaches in 2006. This year, Gibbons expects to reach 35,000 Texans.
“We’re about to put a new Mobile Mammography hub in Lufkin for our mobile programs,” Gibbons said. “We offer Saturdays. We offer late appointments.”
Devastated after losing her own mom to breast cancer, Gibbons has a true heart for the work she’s doing for others.
“The uninsured face so many barriers. If you’ve always been insured, you have no idea how hard that is,” Gibbons said. “The one thing that always surprises me—so many people don’t ask for help. People need their dignity. I don’t know how many people who haven’t been down on their luck at one time or another.”
The collaboration between University of Houston’s HEALTH Center of Addictions Research and Cancer Prevention and The Rose’s Gibbons has been an edifying, fruitful one. Gibbons serves on the HEALTH-RCMI Community Advisory Board, and she offers the community feedback that deeply informs the breast cancer research that’s currently being spearheaded by Dr. Ezemenari Obasi and Dr. Lorraine Reitzel.
“Ms. Gibbons is well known in the Houston community for her heroic and enduring efforts to ensure that all women have access to breast cancer screenings and care,” HEALTH-RCMI's Dr. Reitzel said. “Her work to mitigate breast cancer-related disparities made her a natural fit as an inaugural member of HEALTH Research Institute’s Community Advisory Board.”
When conveying the message that truly underscores the urgency of breast cancer prevention to women, Gibbons doesn’t mince words.
“There’s no one more important than you,” Gibbons said. “And all of us have to ask for help every now and then. It gets back to this ‘Don’t be afraid of finding cancer. Let’s just not find it too late.’”
By Alison Medley