Linda Brandt knows too well the importance of cancer screening. Her husband died from it and her sister fought it. The problem for Brandt is, access to specialty care like a mammogram to screen for breast cancer is over 30 miles away, and she can’t drive.
“My kids say no more driving so that means they have to take me to wherever I need to go,” said Brandt.
She moved to Boulder because she likes how quiet it is, but it puts her farther away from certain amenities. That’s why having the SCL Health Montana Mobile Mammogram Coach arrive in Boulder on Friday was so important.
“So that means nobody has to pick me up, take me (to Butte) and take time off of work to get me there. So it’s a good deal,” said Brandt.
In fact, Boulder resident Bonnie Weinmeister said she would have probably delayed her annual mammogram had the unit not come to Boulder.
These women are not alone, as 48% of women ages 50-74 in St. James Healthcare's service area have not had a mammogram within the past 2 years. The American Cancer Society projects 1 in 8 women will face breast cancer in their lifetime. Early detection is the best chance to increase breast cancer survival rates. In 2021, it is estimated 950 women in Montana will be diagnosed with breast cancer, with an estimated 140 breast cancer deaths.
“I’ve found a lot of women from Boulder haven’t had really regular specialty medical care. They’re getting their primary care with good regular access but specialty care, like a gynecologist or a urologist might be more rare,” said SCL Health Medical Group’s Laura Twist, MD, OB-Gyn. “So we really like to be able to bring our specialty services to this community.”
Twist travels to Boulder and Deer Lodge with her nurse once a month to provide gynecological care.
“I certainly see plenty of patients — and this is in every community but I’ve definitely noticed it in Boulder -- where their last gynecological visit or their last breast exam might have been at the time of their last experience giving birth which for some women could be 30 or 40 years ago. So having specialty care brought to Boulder is really important,” she said.
SCL Health Medical Group - Boulder’s Lori Lagerquist, PA has deep ties to the Boulder community as she arrived in 1991 and she says the demographics are changing but it is still an older community with limited mobility.
“I think that we’ve improved that a lot through SCL Health and St. James,” said Lagerquist but she knows there could be more. “It’s definitely a convenience and a needed service to have mammography brought to the community.”
Patients at the mobile mammography unit Friday agreed.
“It is so helpful because otherwise you have to travel and it takes half your day to get this done,” said Weinmeister.
“This is awesome because it’s right in your backyard, you don’t have to travel. It’s super easy, it makes everything so convenient and it’s also, when it’s local, it reminds you of the necessary things you need to do to protect yourself, to protect your family. So it’s just a great thing,” said Boulder resident Shelley Phelps.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American College of Radiology recommend annual mammography screenings starting at age 40.
“About 10% of breast cancers are diagnosed in women who are between 40 and 50 years old so there is a lot of opportunity to catch that really early stage disease in that age group,” said Twist.
The SCL Health Montana mobile mammogram unit had a packed schedule Friday, completely booking up their 18 available time slots.
“You come on (the coach), you get it done in 5 to 7 minutes. Then You’re done, you’re off, you’re happy and everybody is very happy, they’re appreciative, they’re very happy that we’re there,” said mammography coach driver, Tamara Miller. She drives the truck all over rural Montana and said they’re always shown a generous welcome.
“(Residents) give us homemade monkey bread or homemade bread just to show that they appreciate us being there. I got goosebumps, seriously, it’s just so amazing the appreciation people show for us being here,” she said.
Miller wants to urge all women over 40 to get their screenings done. Something Lagerquist and Twist agree is essential for finding cancer in its earliest stages when the disease is most treatable.
“Being a breast cancer survivor — early screening to me is the key. It’s the key to less treatment, it’s the key to less illness, it’s the key to less death,” said Lagerquist.