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Breast and Cervical Health Check

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Patty DeLay

Tuesday, March 25, Phone Interview

Patty DeLay recalls vividly the day she learned that she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer. Patty, who’d recently moved from her hometown in Westin, Oregon to the Kenai Peninsula town of Nikiski drove home thinking “what could be worse than this?” Later that day, she learned: It was September 11, a day history will remember for the terrorist attacks on the United States.

Patty had only been in Nikiski a couple of months and aside from her fiancé, she had yet to make friends. Still, the small coastal community reminded her of home and she enjoyed living there.

Confronting her diagnosis, Patty at first had to rely on her own resources. She recalled that when her daughter had discovered a lump in her breast at 17, she had been seen at a Planned Parenthood clinic. Patty tracked down the phone number for Planned Parenthood of Soldotna and soon had an appointment.

Planned Parenthood enrolls women in “Breast & Cervical Health Check” the State of Alaska’s Breast & Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. Patty was eligible for services and was promptly enrolled in the program.

Health care provider’s first thought that Patty’s lump was not cancerous because she reported some pain – usually a lump is painless. However, a biopsy determined the lump was cancerous.

“There is no breast cancer on my side of the family. I was shocked. When I heard him say the word ‘cancer’ that’s the end of what I heard,” Patty says.

But she wasn’t alone. Patty was one of the first BCHC patients to be referred to Medicaid, which pays for the treatment for BCHC enrolled women. “Without it (Medicaid-covered treatment) people wouldn’t get treatment,” Patty said.

Planned Parenthood of Soldotna took care of the paperwork and scheduled Patty’s examinations, treatment and follow-up care. She remains grateful for the team approach. “When you are going through something like that, you are not thinking. You are just kind of numb,” said Patty.

The clinic scheduled her seven-week stay at an Anchorage hospital and arranged for vouchers to cover air and taxi costs. Patty was also offered the numbers of local women who had gone through breast cancer and were willing to share their stories to help others. “As shy as I am, I didn’t use it (the local support network,” Patty says.

Patty’s reaction is not uncommon. Experts say that individual counseling and support groups for cancer patients, their families and children aren’t for everyone. Still others gain insight and encouragement from the groups. Your local hospital or public health center can help you find a cancer support group or you may call the American Cancer Society (at 800) ACS-2345.

Moving to Alaska changed Patty’s life and confronting breast cancer became part of the challenge. The diagnosis and treatment, she says, made her realize that “no one is truly alone.”

“You think you’re not dependent on anyone but you really are.” Patty says. She recalls crying after her mastectomy – and realizing again how much her finance loved her when he reminded her that surgery had saved her life. “I cried when my hair fell out. He said ‘you knew it was going to happen.’ He went out and bought me a wig. He was very supportive,” Patty recalls.

“Cancer might change your appearance,” Patty reminds us, “but it doesn’t change who you are.”

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