Partner for Life: Accountability in Community for Breast Cancer Survivors
Like many women, Lavinia Taylor put off routine mammograms because she was too busy. Too busy being a mom—“My kids come first,” she says. “There was always something happening.”—so she canceled appointments for their sake. Too busy being a community leader and breast cancer advocate—“I had Breast Cancer Awareness necklaces, I had the pins and everything,” she says. “I was like a poster child for breast cancer awareness.”
Her best friend’s stage two breast cancer diagnosis is what finally motivated her to get screened in 2019. Her friend became Taylor’s accountability partner, which Taylor says, was a game-changer for her. “She kept checking on me to make sure I went to the appointment,” she says.
That role is something that was missing for Taylor in the years up to her breast cancer diagnosis, and it’s something that, according to the team at ChesPenn, is missing for many women. “When I canceled my first appointment, maybe somebody should have followed up,” Taylor says.
Accountability is a core practice of ChesPenn, a network of family health centers in the Philadelphia region that aims to mitigate barriers to care for the community. The nonprofit, with health centers in Coatesville, Chester and Upper Darby, educates women about the importance of cancer screenings and provides free mammograms throughout the year—regardless of insurance or immigration status. This is all thanks to a grant from the NFL called “The Crucial Catch,” whose aim is to help women prevent and catch breast cancer cases before they’ve progressed.
Organizations like ChesPenn are vital in spreading the word about the importance of screenings and early detection of breast cancer. And that message is having a clear impact on breast cancer mortality rates. According the American Cancer Society, breast cancer death rates have been steadily declining since 1989, with an overall decline of 43 percent through 2020. Early screenings and increased awareness—as well as better treatments—are the reasons for the drop, ACS says.
The concept of an “accountability partner” has been a hugely successful practice for ChesPenn. They have a whole team—Patient Engagement Specialists—dedicated to reminding patients about their appointments. “We were able to, with these efforts, increase our mammogram screening from 28 to over 45 percent,” says Tamara Fox, director of marketing and development.
If a patient is diagnosed with breast cancer, ChesPenn’s services don’t stop there. Part of their job is to ensure that every patient knows what’s next. “There’s no gap in care,” Fox says.
This is, in part, is the result of ChesPenn’s strong relationship with other local health systems, including Crozer and Penn, as well as their funding from organizations like the Breast Cancer Early Detection Program (BCEDP). “We’re able to dip into those funds to continue the ongoing care,” Fox explains.
This type of dependability of care is something that not only helps patients heal, but also reaffirms their belief in the healthcare system. And that is part of ChesPenn’s goal when they’re helping their patients.
Taylor was lucky to have a treatment experience that was never a mystery, scary as it was. “They really guided me through,” she says.
But not all breast cancer patients in Philadelphia have that experience—and ChesPenn is trying to change that.
Back in the swing of advocating for breast cancer awareness, Taylor is happy and healthy thanks to the dependability and accountability of the community around her. Now 47, she has been cancer free since 2020.
At ChesPenn, they’re working to fund as many free mammograms as possible for uninsured women in the Philadelphia area. “We’re the safety net for those patients,” Fox says. “It’s very important to us.”
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