September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Early detection, however, can mean the difference between life and death, especially when it comes to breast cancer.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and while events are taking place across the United States to raise awareness of the disease, one group is reaching out specifically to farm women in central and northern Minnesota through an effort called "Bringing Pink to the Fields."
"It's a great program. We are really excited about it," said Miranda Anderson, director for marketing and community relations at Essential Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd, Minn.
Anderson is part of a group that developed "Bringing Pink to the Fields," which was launched this spring by Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center through a $92,536 grant from the Minnesota Chapter of Susan G. Komen for a Cure. The program's goals are to raise awareness of breast cancer, screenings and the Sage program (see sidebar) through educational materials, events and tools, and to increase mammography services and providers in a 21-county area of Minnesota, including Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Mille Lacs, Kittson, Roseau, Lake of the Woods, Marshall, Beltrami, Polk, Pennington, Clearwater, Red Lake, Norman, Mahnomen, Stevens, Becker, Big Stone, Wadena, Clay, Ottertail and Hubbard counties.
"Susan G. Komen identified that there was a void for [breast cancer] education in rural Minnesota. We had statistics showing that we were doing a poor job with educating and screening these women," Anderson said.
Crow Wing County dairy farmer, wife and mother, Rosanne Caughey, can attest to that lack of awareness. She can also attest to obstacles that keep farm women from critical preventive care appointments.
"[Farm women] think they are tied to the cows, and that the farm can't get by without them. They feel guilty about taking time off," Caughey said. "We need to say it's OK to take time off for a mammogram."
Although not a cancer victim herself, Caughey - who dairy farms near Fort Ripley, Minn. - joined the "Bringing Pink to the Fields" effort by providing insight on how to best connect with farm women to spread the message of prevention and raise awareness of programs that provide financial assistance for those that meet certain criteria.
"I had no idea these programs were out there," Caughey said of Sage and similar programs. "When you call to schedule a mammogram, they don't tell you there's a program that will pay for it."
Through "Bringing Pink to the Fields," Essential Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center hopes to fill the education void in the rural communities of central and northern Minnesota, as well as provide financial assistance to encourage people to get regular screenings.
"The whole purpose is to get education out there to rural women so they feel empowered to have screenings done," Anderson said.
For one farm woman, while the awareness measures may not have prompted her to go in for a checkup, but the financial assistance would have eased her mind.
"For me, it wouldn't have done anything to get me in, but it would have lessened the burden," said breast cancer survivor and dairy farmer, Pat Tax. "I would have felt less guilty, because [the money for] that gas could have been spent on feed."
Tax and her husband, Chuck, milk 60 cows on their farm in Morrison County near Pierz, Minn. Ten years ago, on April 2, 2002, Tax was diagnosed with Stage 2 Intramammary Ductile Carcinoma. At only 37 years old, she didn't fit any of the criteria of a breast cancer victim - she had no family history of it; she had never smoked; she'd had kids naturally. With that being said, Tax had no intentions of going to the doctor when she found a lump under her breast while showering after evening chores. It was only at the insistence of Chuck that she went in the following day.
"He said, 'If you don't do it for you, do it for me and the kids,'" Tax said.
Her diagnosis worsened after a lumpectomy was performed - the cancer had spread to 18 lymph nodes. However, because Tax was positive for HER2/neu (Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor 2), she was eligible for a clinical trial on a new drug, Herceptin®.
"Herceptin literally saved my life," Tax said.
Tax underwent chemotherapy treatments once a week for 52 weeks, along with radiation.
"I think the radiation was the hardest," she said. "I remember coming out of the barn, looking at the house and thinking, 'I can't make it.' I was exhausted. Tired doesn't even touch the surface [of what I felt] ... but we had to continue functioning as a farm because we had to pay the bills."
Tax underwent her last treatment on Aug. 16, 2003. While she has been in remission since, she will never fully walk away from that chapter of her life. The threat of lymphodema keeps her acutely aware and protective of her right arm, and because the cancer spread to her lymph nodes, Tax will never be eligible for normal health insurance. This adds to the financial burden she felt while going through treatment - the burden of feeling more like a liability to the farm than an asset.
Easing the financial burden is just one area those involved with "Bringing Pink to the Fields" hope to address by providing gas cards to encourage people to make the needed appointments, as well as providing lymphodema garments and, if the trials go well, mastectomy garments. To date, 600 gas cards have been distributed, worth $6,000.
The program has been well received over the last six months, said Missy Laposky, RN, BA, OCN, who serves as a Patient Navigator for Essentia Health - a go-to person to help patients through the screening, diagnosis and treatment processes.
"On a whole, we've had very positive responses," Laposky said. "It's been going very well."
They hope to continue broadening their outreach to farm women through partnerships with ag organizations, by inserting educational materials in such things as feed bills and holding a presence at agriculture expos and meetings.
Through these efforts, they'll continue "Bringing Pink to the Fields."[[In-content Ad]]