This week we give our #ButterflyKisses to The Big Pink Bus, because of the vital mobile mammography services they provide to communities across Texas.
Imagine this. Your neighbor tells you that she has never had a mammogram, but can’t afford it because of her current financial situation. Would you be willing to help her?
Breast cancer screenings are a vital part of keeping women around the globe safe and healthy. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some time in her life, and regular mammograms are the best way to catch breast cancer early at its most treatable stages. Mammograms are quick, safe, and relatively non-intrusive – but the machines required to perform them are expensive. As a result, most of the mammogram machines in Central Texas are clustered right around I-35, leaving thousands of women without access to a local mammogram.
The Big Pink Bus fills this need in a safe and comforting way. Bus staff reach out to local women through trusted partners such as health care providers, churches, community centers, and schools. On the scheduled day, the Bus arrives in a town, provides mammograms, and contacts each woman afterwards with her results. If those results indicated that further diagnostic testing was required, Bus staff would provide that woman with information about where she could receive follow-on care. Most importantly, she would have a trusted contact on the Bus team if she had any further questions about her breast health. Many Big Pink Bus clients said that they would not have gotten their mammograms if the Bus were not there, bringing care and comfort to ease the fear that often accompanies medical tests.
The Big Pink Bus ceased operations in February of 2018. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 state of emergency in March, diagnostic mammograms have decreased by 94%. After pandemic job losses, 1/3 of Central Texans under 65 are estimated to be uninsured. Most women who are at elevated breast cancer risk are also at elevated COVID risk, and are understandably nervous about going to a medical facility where they might be in close proximity to patients with COVID… but skipping these tests has a cost as well. The Director of the U.S. National Cancer Institute, Dr. Norman Sharpless, estimates that these skipped mammograms since the beginning of COVID will cause 5,000 unnecessary breast cancer deaths.
In response to this breast health crisis, Lone Star Circle of Care is working to relaunch The Big Pink Bus with support from many community partners. Lone Star Circle of Care is one of the largest and most trusted providers of health care for many of the high-risk women in Central Texas.
Breast cancer is very treatable when caught early. The five-year survival rate of breast cancer diagnosed early (Stage I) is 99%. When it is not diagnosed until it has spread in the body (Stage IV), five-year survival drops to 27%. The Big Pink Bus offers women peace of mind and a shorter path through treatment by increasing access to the screenings that aid in early diagnosis.
During this pandemic, we have all learned and remembered how important connection and community are to our health. The Big Pink Bus is a way to strengthen our communities and keep them healthier during these challenging times.
Mobile services are more expensive to provide than fixed-site services. The Bus will need community support to do this essential work. One mobile mammogram costs about $200. If you would consider giving your neighbor the gift of mammogram, please visit the GoFundMe page for the Big Pink Bus and help them keep our neighbors healthy!