Imagine being in a new country, far from your friends and family, devoid of a stable income or health benefits, unable to converse fluently in the native language… and then finding a lump in your breast. Where would you go? What would you do? Who could you turn to?
This is the sad reality often confronted by numerous Gift of Life clients. Many of our Hispanic neighbors who have limited resources simply don’t know where to turn when faced with a health crisis.
This issue can be found throughout the United States and particularly in the state of Texas, which has the second largest Hispanic population in the United States (surpassed only by California), with 39% of its residents being of Hispanic descent. It is estimated that 31% of that population lacks health insurance.
Studies indicate that breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the leading cause of cancer death among Hispanic women in the United States. Breast cancer among Hispanic women in the United States is less likely to be diagnosed at a local, more treatable stage, and Hispanic women are less likely to receive appropriate and timely treatment in comparison to non-Hispanic white women.
The Gift of Life would like to improve upon those statistics. Between 2015 and 2016, the Gift of Life screened more than 1,200 Hispanic clients. This year, alone, more than 320 Hispanic clients have been provided free lifesaving Gift of Life screenings, with an average of 12 – 15 Hispanic women per site.
The Gift of Life strives to provide all Southeast Texans with compassionate care and lifesaving cancer screenings, regardless of ethnic, cultural or language barriers.
This holistic and comprehensive process begins with communication. Through the support of knowledgeable translators and interpreters, like Bernice Loza and Martha Suarez, the Gift of Life provides marketing, educational materials, applications and documents in Spanish, with bilingual staff readily available to answer questions and offer support.
Many non-English speaking Hispanic patients put off medical appointments until they can find a friend or family member who can accompany them and interpret. This barrier to care is alleviated at all Gift of Life screening sites where bilingual staff and volunteers are present to guide our clients through the screening process seamlessly and in their native language. At each site, Martha Suarez stands at the ready to translate every aspect of a client’s care and interpret for medical staff, ensuring that each woman is fully informed. Hispanic clients are provided the same breast health education as all other clients and are equally encouraged to seek early detection of cancer. To make it easy for all clients to have equal access to our free services, bilingual case workers help our clients overcome socioeconomic challenges, like lack of childcare and transportation, at every screening site, as needed.
Gift of Life Community Health Worker Bernice Loza is a remarkable resource for the complex challenges that can affect Hispanic women. She provides expert client navigation, offering additional support services that commonly affect our clients, along with access to organizations that can help them understand immigration laws and surmount unemployment, poverty and lack of healthcare.
Bernice is also a bilingual patient advocate who works with clients who have received a positive breast cancer diagnosis. Being diagnosed with breast cancer can be scary – for anyone! – but would be even more distressing if the information was shared in an unfamiliar language. The role Bernice plays in helping Spanish-speaking breast cancer clients understand their diagnosis, develop a treatment plan and communicate with hospitals and doctors is priceless. Love, care and concern is expressed and, most importantly, understood with her invaluable support.
Thanks, in part, to the Avon Breast Health Outreach Program Grant, the Gift of Life can retain knowledgeable and compassionate bilingual staff members who can assist our diverse clientele. Our skilled staff are empowered to reach out to local women in need and ensure that the limitations of language, culture or income do not prevent them from receiving the lifesaving screenings and support they need to live a healthy, happy life.