SOMERSWORTH — “All she had to do was take her bra off and I could see the lump,” a medical examiner at Goodwin Community Health said. “She didn’t get treated and she died because she knew she couldn’t afford it without insurance.”
The breast cancer-screening center at Goodwin sees nearly 400 women per year who cannot afford to take preventative measures toward avoiding a sometimes-fatal illness.
“I like to be able to tell them, ‘With everything you need to worry about during this time, paying for treatment is not one of them,’ it makes me feel good,” says Joyce Grossi, director of the breast cancer screening program.
Joyce spends every day nurturing women from across the state through various screenings and biopsies performed at the nonprofit healthcare center.
After earning a degree in nursing immediately after high school, Joyce admits she was ready to be a wife and mother.
“In my time we didn’t go to work, we stayed home. Well, I was just not going to be like that, so I became a super-volunteer,” she says.
While volunteering at a crisis hotline, Joyce was eventually hired as a full-time employee and eventually went back to school and got two more degrees in both counseling and social work. It is the combination of healthcare and mental health that lead her to Goodwin.
“The waiting period between a mammogram and your follow-up appointment can be an anxious time,” Joyce says as she explains her role beyond being a schedule keeper for patients, but as someone who settles the women’s racing minds.
Marketing Director of Goodwin Community Health, Lara Willard, in the high-risk category for breast cancer, has gotten mammograms since her early 30s and often waits long days wondering what the follow-up appointment will bring.
“I got a call after my first mammogram saying they needed to see me again. So, I booked an appointment for two weeks later,” Lara said, “Only to hang up and realize, two weeks is way too long to wait for that kind of news. I was really freaked out.”
These kinds of situations are typical of the ones Joyce encounters daily.
“These poor women are a wreck, especially on their first visit,” she says, “I like that I can be there for them. A lot of women don’t have information available, or anyone to talk to.”
Joyce explains, often if a woman is at high-risk for breast cancer and starting mammograms at a young age, the breast tissue is dense. The density clouds the view of the mammogram and therefore certain lumps seem more serious than they may be, she said. The worst, Joyce says, is when a woman comes in, knowing for a great length of time she has a lump on her breast. Most would question her for not taking action, but Joyce says it happens all too often.
“Many women fall into a trap. They can’t treat it if they can’t afford it and don’t have insurance. Then what?”
The answer is, sometimes they die.
“One woman who died, she had that love of life every day,” she said. “One time she came in with a coconut bra on, she was just a lot of fun.”
Talking to the patients through their treatment proves very personal to Joyce.
“I feel their anxiety. I just so wish they didn’t have to go through this.”
However, many do survive.
Joyce says it is relieving when patients come back to tell her they reached their “five-year mark” – being five years since treatment with no sign of cancer returning.
“We have people who are just so grateful. They say, ‘You know, if we hadn’t found the spot on the mammogram and done the biopsy here, it wouldn’t have been caught,’” Joyce notes.
One woman came to Goodwin in 2011 and had a non-threatening mammogram, and by 2012 doctors caught something small, which would not have been felt on a physical breast exam for years.
Joyce admits to keeping a box of Thank You notes as a visual tribute to the voices of her patients.
“The best part of my job is talking to the women every day. Some of the stuff I need for their medical chart, but I’m genuinely interested in knowing how they’re doing,” Joyce says with a thoughtful smile.
“You can’t spend every day doing something you don’t love. Life is too short,” she says. “I feel like I’m doing something great every day.”
To find out if you are eligible for the income-based health care programs at Goodwin Community Health, contact them at 603-749-2346, or download patient forms at www.goodwinch.org/patient-forms-and-information.
As a non-profit organization, Goodwin Community Health is always accepting donations electronically or by downloading a form, both at www.goodwinch.org/donations/.