In October 2011, while leaving her local Walmart in Festus, Mo., Sheila Leutzinger noticed the Missouri Baptist Medical Center mammography van in the parking lot. Theresa Taylor, an outreach coordinator for the hospital’s Breast HealthCare Center and a two-time breast cancer survivor, happened to catch Sheila’s attention and asked her if she needed a mammogram.
Thanks to a grant from Komen St. Louis, the hospital’s mammography van travels to neighborhoods across St. Louis and to towns in rural Missouri, helping women who have no insurance or high deductibles and are unable to afford a mammogram. If further care is needed, Theresa and her coworkers help these women navigate their care.
“We regularly take the van out and educate women on what is normal for them and their bodies,” says Theresa. “Our goal is to help women who have limited means. What we often see is that, when it comes to caring for their own health by having a mammogram, it’s typically the first thing women do without.”
In Sheila’s case, it had been eight years since her last mammogram. Like a lot of uninsured women, it wasn’t a top priority. So when Theresa told Sheila about the free mammography, she figured she should take advantage of the service. At the time, however, Sheila was carrying groceries that needed to be refrigerated so she couldn’t wait for the screening. She decided to make an appointment instead.
A couple of weeks later, Sheila visited the mammography van for her mammogram, which revealed a suspicious mass in her right breast that required further testing. Theresa referred Sheila to Missouri Baptist Medical Center for a biopsy, which revealed she had breast cancer. Sheila then underwent an MRI and breast ultrasound, which identifed another mass in her left breast, requiring additional biopsies.
On Dec. 27, 2011, Sheila arrived at the hospital for her surgery, where doctors removed the mass in Sheila’s right breast and performed a more throrough biopsy on the left breast. This latest biopsy also tested positive for cancer, which required another surgery in January 2012 to remove lymph nodes on her left side.
Sheila is doing well today, and her prognosis is good. In fact, her oncologist has given her a 92 percent chance of making a full recovery. Sheila is on cancer medication for the next five years, and she finished 32 rounds of radiation this past summer.
“Like me, my closest friends neglected to get their regular mammograms,” says Sheila. “Because of my experience, two of them booked their mammograms the day after my surgery and promised to undergo regular mammograms from now on. That was the silver lining for me.”