Printed on October 1, 2019

Area non-profit helps Texas women get breast health services

By B.A. Belthoff / The Bulletin

Early detection is the key. No matter what the type, early detection is the greatest weapon in the fight against cancer. Sometimes it can mean the difference between life and death.

One area non-profit organization leading the charge in the fight against breast cancer is The Rose. From their website, their goal is to save lives through quality breast health services by providing access to screening, diagnosis and treatment services to all. They offer 3-D mammography at both of their Rose Diagnostic Breast Centers, as well as through their Mobile Mammography Program.

Founders Dorothy Weston Gibbons and Dr. Dixie Melillo met while working at Bayshore Medical Center. The two recognized an overwhelming number of women were arriving for care at the center with late-stage breast cancer. They sought to elevate awareness of breast health in women, in order to reduce the number of incidences of late-stage diagnosis. When diagnosed early, breast cancer is 98% curable.

Together in 1986, they established The Rose to provide breast health services to all women regardless of their ability to pay. They saw their project as a model for others to follow. Today, The Rose provides advanced digital imaging, mobile mammography, patient navigation and strives for medical excellence.

The Rose model, where every insured procedure helps cover the costs of the uninsured, is copied throughout the nation. With additional monetary help from The United Way of Brazoria County, grants, gifts, fundraisers, and a network of physicians that donate their time to care for one woman a year, The Rose is able to cast a wide safety net over southeast Texas.

In fact, that safety net has allowed The Rose to serve over 500,000 women, both insured and uninsured, for the past 33 years. Annually, over 35,000 women in 24 counties are now being served by The Rose.

By aligning with numerous organizations and corporations, Ms. Gibbons and Dr. Melillo have established the Breast Health Collaborative of Texas (BHC). They have enlarged the area their net is reaching to include all of Texas. With over 3,000 members, the BHC seeks to close the gap in the healthcare system by educating the community and healthcare professionals on breast health issues.

They advocate locally, statewide and nationally, ensuring breast health issues are being addressed in legislation and assist and support patients in gaining access to care.

In the last year alone, The Rose has cared for 2,476 women, of which, 334 were uninsured. Of the 24 women diagnosed with breast cancer, the youngest was just 34 years old.

A long-time Rose patient named Rufina didn’t have insurance at the time of her diagnosis in 2013. She is grateful to have met Dr. Melillo, whom she originally saw for a second opinion, and Dr. Angel Rodriguez, who saw her through what she described as a life-altering experience.

Her first question was, “How long do I have?” She was reassured by Dr. Melillo that she would be in good hands. At stage 2, her cancer was found early. She left the office visit feeling confident after being told her type of cancer was rare but wouldn’t spread. “Dr Melillo hugged me when I started crying, ‘you came in on time, she told me,’” said Rufina.

She was assigned a patient navigator who guided her through each phase of treatment. The hallmark program connected her with services and networks for customized care allowing Rufina to focus on healing.

Catching the cancer early was critical, but Rufina still had to endure 32 rounds of chemotherapy, an additional 30 rounds of radiation, and a mastectomy.

Though her journey to wellness wasn’t easy, she is still grateful to be a survivor. She admitted to being depressed when her hair started falling out, but ringing the bell in the hospital that signifies the last treatment gave her a new perspective on life. “I remember thinking, thank God I got to go through all of this, because it means I didn’t die,” she recanted.

Her family surprised her by giving her a diploma and a cake to celebrate life. She has much to live for. “I have a granddaughter. She was my reason to do well and to fight,” Rufina shared.

Rufina still sees Dr Melillo every six months. What impresses Rufina the most is when the doctor, who is 70 years old, tells her to make sure she gets out to walk every day. “I have to do it for her because she walks every day to stay healthy to be with me.”

When asked how life is different now, Rufina shared how she has changed a lot in her diet to make her healthier. “I live for today. I see and notice everything, and I spend more time with my family.”

Those are good recommendations for everyone.

To learn more about The Rose, or to make a donation, please see their website at: https://www.therose.org.

(New-ish Texas resident B.A. Belthoff welcomes your comments. You can reach her at babelthoff@gmail.com.)