Racing for a Cure
Participation helps fund breast health services
Tracy Johnson of Bettendorf learned
she had breast cancer after receiving
a mammogram through the Voucher
Programs, administered with funds
raised from the annual Komen Quad
Cities Race for the Cure.® Here, she
relaxes at home with her daughter.
Tracy Johnson hates to think what her health would be like if she hadn’t received a voucher for a free mammogram last February.
Her own mother had died of breast cancer at age 42. Johnson knew her family history placed her at higher risk for the disease, but the 41-year-old single mom of two children didn’t have health insurance. Although she works from home, the cost of a mammogram wasn’t in her budget.
“I hadn’t had a mammogram in three years, and kept thinking about my family history and how I needed to get in to have one,” Johnson of Bettendorf says. “I would have continued to postpone the mammogram if it hadn’t been for the Voucher Programs.”
That free mammogram led to the discovery she had an aggressive form of breast cancer. Fortunately the cancer was caught early, greatly improving her prognosis.
Several times over the years, Johnson has participated in the Komen Quad Cities Race for the Cure® with her mother and an aunt, a breast cancer survivor. Her mother was diagnosed at age 40, and her aunt at age 38. It gave both of them strength to be amid 10,000 runners and walkers rallying for a cure.
Little did Johnson know that money raised from the race would one day impact her own life.
The local race, to be held June 9, is a major fundraiser of the Susan G. Komen Quad Cities Affiliate, which dispenses grant money to help fund breast health services for women in need.
Among those grant recipients is the Voucher Programs, which gives the gift of early detection through mammograms and breast ultrasounds. The program, administered by Genesis, is one of several avenues for women in need to receive vital breast health services.
With the help of the Voucher Programs, Tracy Johnson received the voucher that paid for her mammogram at the Kenneth H. McKay, M.D. Center for Breast Health at Genesis Medical Center, Davenport.
When her mammogram detected an abnormality, she received a biopsy with funding help from the Scott County Care for Yourself (formerly MAPS) program.
Once she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was connected to other federal resources to help pay for her lumpectomy and future treatment at the Genesis Cancer Care Institute.
The Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act gives women diagnosed with a precancerous or cancerous breast or cervical condition access to Medicaid benefits during the treatment period, as long as they have received mammography services paid by Susan G. Komen funds or received services through the National Breast and Cervical Center Early Detection Program before diagnosis.
Although it may sound complicated, it was all made easy for Johnson when she was connected with Genesis oncology-certified nurse Stef Dreher, R.N., who coordinates the Voucher Programs and guided her through the process.
The two met after Johnson learned she needed a biopsy, and Dreher came to her house to help her do the paperwork.
Johnson remembers the feeling of financial helplessness she had when the doctor who did the biopsy called to tell her she had breast cancer and would need surgery. “I immediately thought, ‘Oh my gosh, how am I going to pay for this?’” she recalls.
That feeling was short-lived when several minutes later, Dreher called.
“It was a Friday when I learned I had breast cancer. Stef called soon after that,” Johnson says. “She knew I wouldn’t want to go the entire weekend worrying. She reassured me she could help. She brought me so much relief. It took a lot of pressure off, so I could concentrate on my health without being overwhelmed by medical bills.”
Racing for a Cure
Since 1990, the local Komen Quad Cities Race for the Cure® has raised more than $4.8 million. Up to 75 percent of those funds have been used for local programs, with 25 percent going to fund breast cancer research.
“Each year, money raised from the race helps eliminate the financial barriers that prevent individuals from receiving a mammogram,” Dreher says.
“We see women and men who are without insurance or who can’t pay their insurance deductibles. When faced with the decision to pay for food and other bills or have a yearly screening, they often choose not to have the mammogram. Our program helps individuals who have expressed a need.”
In the past, the Voucher Programs also has provided women diagnosed with breast cancer assistance to pay for costly breast prostheses, special bras, camisoles, wigs and medical alert bracelets.
Today, Johnson is currently undergoing chemotherapy at the office of oncologist Dr. David Mercer. Once she completes her chemotherapy, she will begin radiation treatments at the Genesis Cancer Care Institute. She is grateful to those who have guided her through her cancer journey, including the Center for Breast Health staff and cancer nurse navigators Amy Fitzgibbon and Melissa Frantz.
“The Center for Breast Health was great,” she says. “I was dealing with so many emotions and fears. They took my hand and guided me. The nurse navigators are wonderful...you can call them any time. They would sit on the phone with me for however long it took for me to feel better. They walked me through every step. Now, I’m with Dr. Mercer, and he and his staff are great, too.”
She has new appreciation for the Komen Quad Cities Race for the Cure® and of the awareness and money it raises for breast health services.
“I put off having a mammogram because I wasn’t aware there was financial help for me to get one done,” Johnson says. “Now I know there’s help out there if you need it. I want other women to know that lack of insurance doesn’t have to be a hurdle. Your health...your life...is so important.”
The Voucher Programs is open to any person within the service area of the QC Komen Affiliate: Clinton, Scott, Muscatine and Cedar counties in Iowa and Whiteside, Henry, Rock Island and Mercer counties in Illinois. To find out more information, call Stef Dreher at 563-421-1913 or 1-888-598-7140.