I had complete strangers rubbing my head!
“I’m the first one to talk about my experience,” said the energetic women’s health nurse. “I want to share my story to help others.” Awareness and prevention efforts are very near and dear to her heart.
Like many women, Paula discovered she had breast cancer by accident. One morning, she noticed a change in her breast while taking a shower. She knew something wasn’t right, and called her doctor right away.
Results from screening and diagnostic mammograms were inconclusive. After a follow-up ultrasound, however, doctors spotted the golf ball-sized lump.
A week later, Paula had surgery and began chemotherapy. Thanks to the support of family, friends and co-workers, she was able to continue working throughout her treatment.
Paula says she learned many life lessons on her journey back to health.
“The first time I looked in the mirror and there was no hair there, I freaked,” she said. “I thought, ‘I am not a whole person.’ Then I just rubbed my head, and thought, everybody’s going to rub the head. I’m ok. I’m alive. I can teach.”
After that, Paula knew how to put others at ease. “When I would catch someone staring at me, I would point to my head and say, ‘Breast cancer – now rub the head!’ I had complete strangers rubbing my head. It put a smile on their face because they knew that I was ok with it,” she said.
As a nurse, Paula shares her story daily with women at HealthNet’s community health centers. She knows, first hand, that uninsured women are less likely to be screened for breast cancer, increasing their risk of dying from the disease by 20%.
“When patients tell me they don’t have the money to have a mammogram done or to have treatments, I sit down with them and explain that there are ways to do this. You HAVE to stay healthy. You have to take care of YOU,” she said.
“Many of our patients remember what I went through. They had to ‘rub the head’ too. Now when they come in for their check-ups, they are the first to tell me that they’ve had their mammograms!”
These success stories encourage her. And, she is vigilant in reminding folks to keep up with their self-exams and mammograms.
“I explain to them, you don’t have to be 50. You can be 20. You can be 15, you can be 65. Every female and every male is susceptible to breast cancer. So it’s really important to get regular screenings and to check out any lump or bump you may have,” she said.
HealthNet cares for nearly 20,000 women each year, many of whom live at or below the federal poverty level. With your help, we hope to overcome the cultural, social, educational and financial barriers that prevent women from getting screened and receiving life-saving treatment. Here’s how you can help! If you or someone you know needs direction to the first step in getting regular screenings click here to find our nearest health center to you!