Women’s health in Kitsap ‘ahead of the curve’ with preventive programs

At her dad’s hospital bedside after a stroke, Annette LaGrandeur decided to get a mammogram, something, at age 50, she had never done.

A month later, her right breast was removed.

“My mom called me crying,” she said of the moment she broke the news of her breast cancer diagnoses. “We cried as I thought, ‘Why is this happening to me?’”

In recognition of Women’s Health Week next week, the Kitsap County Board of Health hosted a forum Tuesday about female health issues.

Susan Johnson, regional director of U.S. Health and Human Services, said that the health care reform measure approved by Congress will allow women to get services they need, when they need them, especially for early prevention.

“We will be able to have the right care at the right time at the right place,” she said.

Johnson said new rules and regulations will end the practice of insurance companies “mining” for health problems, including breast cancer, that result in patients losing insurance coverage.

Historically, women’s health has been on society’s back burner, said U.S. Assistant Surgeon General Patrick O’Carroll.

“Women and men are actually quite different,” he said. “The research enterprise forgot that for a period of time.”

O’Carroll said drug research focused on men with the assumption that women would react the same way. Years later, he said, it became evident women reacted differently to popular medications like Lipitor.

He said that old way of thinking has to change before women’s health services are treated with the attention it deserves, especially for low-income women.

“We have to take a step back to see what we’re doing for the women in our society,” he said.

Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent, chairwoman of the health board, said she felt the county is a leader in women’s health.

“We feel in Kitsap County we are ahead of the curve,” she said. “Prevention is what this board is looking for.”

It’s that prevention that LaGrandeur said might have kept her from needing cancer treatment.

“I felt the lump, I knew it was there, but I didn’t think anything of it.”

Not bringing in enough income to pay for health insurance, screenings like mammograms were always out of the question, she said.

It was LaGrandeur’s mother that gave her a flier in the hospital advertising a free screening at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds. It may have saved her life, she said.

The Washington Breast and Cervical Health Program, offered by the county’s health district, allows uninsured and underinsured women 40 years to 64 years old free examinations and services. The program’s mobile screening service travels across the county bringing services directly to women like LaGrandeur.

“If they weren’t there, that lump would still be there and spreading,” she said. “It scares me to death.”

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