NHCAC is a non-profit agency that provides health services and screenings for low-income residents, and receives funding from state, county and municipal governments. The agency also has partnerships with health organizations across the state.
"We have been doing this every year since I started working here 11 years ago," said Maria Llorente, coordinator for the women's health and family planning department. She added that the program has been very active for the past five years because of the expansion of the clinics. This year is no exception. "We a have breast cancer awareness program going on in all seven centers [this month]. We are offering free clinical breast examinations only for October," she said.
The educational seminars and exams, which began this past week, are being offered at all seven centers at different times throughout the month. The seminars include information on breast cancer awareness and lessons on how to perform breast self-exams.
"In conjunction with that, we have free mammograms being offered to women over 40 years of age sponsored by Bergenline X-ray," said Llorente.
"We are encouraging women to be more aware," said Llorente. "Mammograms are very important starting at age 40, and self-exanimation [is key] for early detection."
Bergenline X-Ray is giving mammogram vouchers to 50 patients who don't have medical insurance.
NHCAC also recently participated in the American Cancer Society's national Denim Day, where employees make donations for cancer and then wear jeans to work. The funds raised go toward breast cancer research.
In addition, NHCAC is also honoring two members of their own staff community this year, who are breast cancer survivors.
Stories of survival
Last Thursday, Oct. 11, NHCAC held a celebration in honor of employees who survived breast cancer at the organization's main headquarters in West New York.
"The staff members being honored are a part of the women's health department [at NHCAC]," said Llorente. "Joan McEntee is a nurse-practitioner in the women's health department and a survivor, and Maria de Leon [also a certified nurse] will be five years in remission this Oct. 17."
"This honor means a lot particularly coming from this organization," said McEntee, who started working with NHCAC last November and at that same time found a lump in her breast. McEntee, who goes for her mammograms every year, found the lump while performing the self-examination.
"It's interesting," said McEntee. "As a health care provider in women's health, I have been going for mammograms regularly and it was through my own exam that I found the lump. It stresses how important it is for women to examine themselves [in addition to getting mammograms]."
After the holidays, McEntee had a biopsy performed and was diagnosed with two different tumors, one in each breast.
"I had both [breasts] removed with reconstructive surgery at the same time," said McEntee.
Follow-up exams after the surgery turned up negative for more cancer cells, so there was no need for chemotherapy. McEntee continues to follow up with check ups every three months, and takes daily medications.
"The staff at NHCAC was wonderful," said McEntee. "Since I was there such a short period of time [when diagnosed] and I had no sick days, staff members volunteered their sick time."
After allowing it for McEntee, the human resources department at NHCAC officially changed its policy to allow donations of sick days among employees.
"I think I had a total of 50 donated sick days, which I thankfully didn't need to use all of them," said McEntee. "This staff and this organization have just been incredible. I am so much better just due to their support, and with the new policy in place anyone else in the same situation can donate sick time. "
Also being honored with McEntee was Maria De Leon.
"I have to say thank you to all my coworkers, who gave me their support during this problem," said Maria De Leon, who was diagnosed in 2002 during her annual mammogram exam.
After going through several tests and a biopsy, it was determined she would need surgery to remove the cancerous cells.
"I was trying to be conscious of what I was going through and what would happen," said De Leon. "Thank God I had the support of family and my coworkers."
De Leon's surgery was a success, and come Oct. 17, she will have been in remission for five years.
"It was painful at that moment and it leaves an [emotional] mark for the rest of your life, but it was caught in time and that was very important," said De Leon.
De Leon stressed the importance of early detection to the patients of NHCAC.
"I have the opportunity to translate for other patients and give them moral support, so they can keep going and do everything they have to do," said De Leon. "That is the best thing I can do. Talk to them and help them through these moments."
McEntee has been working in women's health since the late '70s, having worked as a nurse and in the pharmaceuticals industry. She has been working with family practitioners at NHCAC in internal medicine and women's health issues for the past 11 years. Both De Leon and McEntee now share their stories and offer support to the patients the NHCAC clinics.
Get your free exam this Oct.
According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States other than skin cancer, and the second leading cause of cancer death in women after lung cancer.
About 178,480 women in the United States will be found to have invasive breast cancer in 2007. About 40,460 women will die from the disease this year.
However, thanks to early detection and improved treatments breast cancer death rates continue to decrease. Right now there are about two and a half million breast cancer survivors in the United States.
NHCAC's upcoming seminars and exams will be held on Oct. 16 at the Hoboken Health Center from 9 a.m. to noon, on Oct. 17 at the Union City Health Center from 1 to 5 p.m., on Oct. 18 at the North Bergen Health Center from 9 a.m. to noon, on Oct. 19 at the Jersey City Health Center from 1 to 5 p.m., and Oct. 23 at the Garfield Health Center from 1 to 5 p.m.
For more information on women's health services provided at the NHCAC centers, call Maria Llorente at (201) 866-9320, ex. 135. To comment on this story, e-mail Jessica Rosero at email@example.com