by KIM HILSENBECK
On a recent Wednesday in September, Guadalupe Meza of San Marcos sat in a waiting room. She answered the questions asked by Monica Guerra, a Seton Medical Center Hays employee, who typed the information into a computer.
Meza was there to get a mammogram. At first glance, it looked like a scene from any number of medical facilities around the country.
But this was no ordinary doctor’s office.
Meza is one of about 60 to 80 women a month who go to the National Center for Farmworker Health in Buda; that’s when nurses and technicians from Seton Medical Center roll up in a big pink mobile mammogram center.
They call it, aptly, the Big Pink Bus.
This 39-foot-long mobile home was converted into a roving clinic that travels all around Central Texas performing free mammograms for patients who qualify, according to Christina Brito, manager of outreach and community services for NCFH.
“Women hearing the information about breast health and learning about mammograms can be life saving,” said Brito.
Brito said Seton’s Big Pink Bus performs mammograms in a five-county area in Central Texas.
The NCFH utilizes a grant from the Komen Austin Foundation to spread the word about breast health and education; free mammograms are funded through the grant. Komen also provides outreach materials.
Earlier in the summer, an employee – called a promotora – from the NCFH came to Meza’s door reminding her of the importance of getting a breast exam. She made an appointment, but it was not her first time on the bus.
The promotoras, a group of about eight women from NCFH who go door-to-door promoting breast health and mammograms, concentrate their efforts on Hispanic women, primarily in low-income regions of Hays County.
“Our promotoras typically get between 60 and 80 referrals each month,” Brito said.
Those referrals are sent to Seton to schedule the mammogram appointment. Then the Big Pink Bus rolls into the NCFH parking lot.
Once Meza was checked into the system, Seton nurse Peggy O’Neil took her to the front of the bus and closed the sliding door between the two rooms. Meza sat in the large captain’s chair next to the driver’s seat. O’Neil was in an office chair next to her.
This area is where O’Neil spends time educating women on the exam they’re about to have; she explained to Meza how the machine works and what to expect, demonstrating the procedure with her hands. She spoke Spanish to Meza, who understands English but felt more comfortable speaking in Spanish.
There are barriers for women to get mammograms, Brito said.
“In some cases, the barrier is financial; in others it’s a lack of transportation, and sometimes it’s both,” Brito said.
She also said it’s rare that a husband or other male figure would cause any problem with a woman getting a mammogram, especially once they learn about the risks of breast cancer.
“And that our program offers the test at no charge,” Brito said.
The out of pocket cost for a mammogram is about $350, she said.
To learn more or schedule an information session with someone from NCFH about breast health and mammograms, call (512) 312-2700.