Komen St. Louis Community Partner: Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation’s START NOW Breast Cancer Awareness Services

Community Partner

Perhaps one of the most amazing aspects of the human experience is the impact that one group of people can have on the lives of others. The team at the START NOW Breast Cancer Awareness Services program at the Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation is working hard to make their impact a positive one.

“The START NOW program enriches and ensures women the ability to get the mammography service or breast health-related services they need,” says Debra Custer, treatment navigator and program manager. “My basic role is that I am the last link of the continuum of care when it comes to being diagnosed with breast cancer. I provide the emotional support, some of the psychological support, and any financial support that the patient might need in reducing any barriers for treatment.”

The START NOW program assists those living with breast cancer while also serving those who may be unsure of their breast health status. The program helps these women find out just where they stand.

Komen St. Louis has provided funding for this program for six years.

“Recently, we had a breast cancer survivor appreciation luncheon and we had invited all the survivors and women that we have come in contact with since the program’s inception in 2008,” says Debra. “There was one lady who came and it turned out that she did have breast cancer. She said that if it had not been for the START NOW program letting her know that there are financial services available for women to get mammography services, she does not know what condition she would be in at this time. She’s now in her third year of recovery.”

Debra recalls another woman who brought in her mother for a biopsy. “I just happened to turn to her and ask if she had any services done,” says Debra. “She said that she hadn’t but that she would wait to have them done. So I encouraged her to seek medical treatment and get her mammogram done, and she kept putting it off and putting it off. About six months later, we got her mammogram done and she did have breast cancer; she was Stage 3. She’s had some setbacks in her recovery, but she’s still with us.”

These life-changing experiences are what keep the START NOW team motivated to do their part in helping the community. Although the program has done much already to aid breast cancer patients, there is always more to look forward to in the future.

“My hope is to increase [breast health and breast cancer] awareness, because there are still women in our community who are behind in receiving mammography services. They’re not getting how important it is that they still maintain good breast health,” says Debra. “We have to change the mentality of who we are to our families. Let’s not put an additional hardship on the family because we’re no longer there. And now we’ve continued to reduce the financial barriers to getting your mammography services.”

Komen St. Louis funding allows the START NOW program to continue increasing this critical breast health awareness and offering breast health services to those who may not otherwise obtain such care.

In 2013, Komen St. Louis granted $2.2 million to 13 local breast health programs in our 17-county Missouri/Illinois service area, including Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation’s START NOW Breast Cancer Awareness Services program. These grants help fund breast health and breast cancer screening, education and patient navigation services for those in our community who otherwise may not have access due to low income, lack of insurance or other barriers.


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