Spotting breast cancer early and getting treatment are essential in order to prevent deaths from the disease. But that’s not always possible.
Unfortunately, many women who are either uninsured or underinsured find that mammograms, a critical tool in early detection, are beyond their ability to afford. In many cases, they don’t find out they have breast cancer until it reaches a late stage — often too late.
That’s where Dollars for Mammograms Inc. can help.
It offers a no-cost mammogram program designed for women who can’t afford them.
The organization was established in 2000 with seed money from Monies for Mammograms Inc., which is no longer in operation. The funds from the earlier corporation had been donated anonymously by a wealthy man in memory of his wife who had died from breast cancer, according to the nonprofit’s website.
According to Rita Bertler, president and co-founder of the organization, Dollars for Mammograms provides “help for today and hope for tomorrow” to women in Charlotte and south Sarasota counties. It serves women living in Port Charlotte, Punta Gorda, Englewood, Grove City, Cape Haze, Rotonda West, Placida, Boca Grande, North Port and Venice.
Ms. Bertler and Karin Drury, along with Business and Professional Women of Englewood, worked together to find an imaging center at an affordable price.
“When we started, we just served the Englewood area. We didn’t have much money and had to find an imaging center,” Ms. Bertler said. “Today we service all Charlotte County and Sarasota County up to Venice proper.”
The group needed an imaging center as a partner. Ms. Bertler contacted Englewood Community Hospital (now HCA Florida Englewood Hospital), which became the organization’s go-to imaging center. In May 2008, Fawcett Memorial Hospital (now HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital) came on board as the new imaging center for women in eastern Charlotte County. However, as of June 2021, Radiology Associates of Venice & Englewood — with offices in Englewood, Venice and Sarasota — has become the new imaging center for the entire service area.
Ms. Bertler was inspired to form the organization because of her own personal breast health issues. Her mother had breast cancer and, so far, Ms. Bertler has had several breast tumors — thankfully all benign.
“When all the testing came back and it (the tumor) was benign, I knew I had to do something,” she said. “I was so grateful I could have kissed the sidewalk.”
At the time, she was uninsured but was able to pay off her medical bills with her credit cards. Although she had the ability to pay for her medical care, she realized that others were losing their lives because they could not afford to be tested.
“We help the women I call the working poor,” Ms. Bertler said. “If they have insurance, they have such a high deductible. And some insurance companies won’t pay for outpatient procedures.”
Often, women earn too much money to get free or discounted medical care from community care clinics.
Dollars for Mammograms must follow federal guidelines, but women who have had breast implants may receive mammograms every six months, and women under 40 are also eligible if there is a medical reason.
Although the Affordable Care Act has helped, Ms. Bertler said thousands still can’t get the help they need.
“I was lucky that I had the credit card power and the know-how,” she said.
The American Cancer Society has set specific screening guidelines for those at both average and high risk for breast cancer.
The goal of screening tests for breast cancer is to find it before any symptoms, like a lump in the breast that can be felt, appear. Early detection means breast cancers found during screening exams are more likely to be smaller and less likely to have spread outside the breast.
Tumor size and how far the cancer has spread are some of the most important factors in predicting the prognosis, according to the ACS.
Other diagnostic procedures
When deemed medically necessary, Dollars for Mammograms also provides diagnostic mammograms, breast ultrasounds, ultrasound-guided needle biopsy and MRI-guided breast biopsy for those who qualify.
A diagnostic mammogram takes more detailed images of breast tissue than a routine screening. It is typically used when a physician finds potential signs of breast cancer in the initial mammogram. It is also often used in those who already have a history of breast cancer.
Breast ultrasound uses sound waves to make computer images of the inside of the breast. It can show certain breast changes, like fluid-filled cysts, that can be harder to see with mammograms.
Ultrasound is usually used when women’s breast tissue is dense, which can make it difficult to see abnormal areas with mammograms. It is also used after a suspicious area is seen on a mammogram. It is also used in needle biopsies and guides a physician when placing a biopsy needle that collects cells to be tested for cancer. This can also be done in swollen lymph nodes under the arm.
A breast MRI is usually performed after a biopsy is positive for cancer. It can show a health care provider the extent of the disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, a breast MRI is sometimes used along with mammography as a screening tool for detecting breast cancer in some people, including those with a high risk of breast cancer, who have a strong family history of breast cancer or who have hereditary breast cancer gene changes.
“Without our services, these women would not have received these expensive breast-health medical procedures,” Ms. Bertler said. “The service we provide is vitally needed in our community.”
Before one can qualify for help from Dollars for Mammograms, a simple application (which can be found on the website) must be filled out and submitted. Ms. Bertler said applicants usually have an answer within 10 days.
Grants now available
In August, Dollars for Mammograms began offering medical assistance grants for qualified recipients.
“Women in treatment incur many bills and we wanted to help,” Ms. Bertler said.
In order to qualify, an applicant must be a Dollars for Mammograms Inc. recipient and may submit a grant application within 12 months from the date of the biopsy. Uninsured, underinsured or those who cannot afford care may apply. The following procedure must be followed by grant applicants:
• A brief statement of financial need must be included.
• Copies of breast health-related testing or procedural medical bills for which they are requesting grant money are required.
• Applicants must be screened for ACA insurance within the ACA enrollment period that applies to them.
• A copy of the health insurance marketplace eligibility notice from the ACA screening must be submitted.
• If the enrollment period is not open to the applicant, a current tax return to establish financial need is required.
• Underinsured recipients may apply for a grant but must provide a current tax return to establish financial need.
• Grants will be paid directly to the medical service provider upon approval. The grantee will be notified of payment to the health provider.
Of course, all that Dollars for Mammograms offers requires funding. Fundraising events from pickleball tournaments to an annual raffle for grocery gift cards help to keep money in the coffers.
Even youngsters participate in the organization’s fundraising efforts.
“Every year it touches my heart,” Ms. Bertler said. “The littlest kids from an elementary school here in Charlotte County collect donations each October.”
The kids have raised as much as $750. The annual fundraiser began when a child’s grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Here are ways to make a donation to Dollars for Mammograms:
• An annual grocery benefit is another way the organization raises money. To participate, purchase chances at the locations listed on the organization’s website. Three lucky winners will each receive a $350 grocery gift card. The drawing will be held Nov. 14. Visit www.dollarsformammograms.org for more information.
• The annual Bra Dazzle and Bra Decorating Contest will not be held his year, but the nonprofit will be selling chances to win its Magical Potion Wagon. The cart, loaded with about 26 liters of alcohol, will be decorated with the traditional pink as well as green for St. Patrick’s Day, since the drawing will be held in March. Details will be released after Jan. 1. Keep checking the website for more details.
• Mail a check directly to Dollars for Mammograms Inc., P.O. 366
Englewood, FL 34295-0366.
• Dollars for Mammograms has established an endowment fund at the Gulf Coast Community Foundation. Make a secure online donation to the Gulf Coast Community Foundation Fund at www.gulfcoastcf.org/give-fund and select Dollars for Mammograms from the dropdown menu.
• Donate online using PayPal’s secure online payment method at www.dollarsformammograms.org/how-to-donate.
• Plan your own fundraising event to support Dollars for Mammograms.
Donations are tax-deductible.
With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s important to realize that breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women — and the second-leading cause of death among women. According to Dollars for Mammograms, the current statistic for a woman’s chance of getting breast cancer in her lifetime is one in eight. The good news is that — with annual mammogram screenings — breast cancer death rates are decreasing.
Since its founding, Dollars for Mammograms has helped close to 4,000 women and men (yes, men also can develop breast cancer) obtain their screening mammograms.
“I highly encourage each and every one of you to get your mammogram annually,” Ms. Bertler said. “And if you cannot afford it, we are here to help you.” ¦