‘Just listen to us:’ Breast cancer survivor urges doctors to offer screenings for younger women

Orlando breast cancer foundation says chance of survival increases if disease is caught earlier

While some doctors suggest getting a mammogram starting at the age of 40, one Central Florida breast cancer foundation disagrees.

ORLANDO, Fla. – While some doctors suggest getting a mammogram starting at the age of 40, one Central Florida breast cancer foundation disagrees.

The founder and members of Libby’s Legacy Breast Cancer Foundation in Orlando said that is too late, especially since younger women are being diagnosed with the disease, some of them even dying from it.

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Five years ago, a doctor gave Alina Sanchez test results that changed her life.

“You see someone speaking but you don’t hear them. That’s how it was,” said Sanchez, of the day she learned she had stage 2B breast cancer. “The first thing that comes to mind is... you’re dying. You’re going to die,” Sanchez said.

She thanked Libby’s Legacy Breast Cancer Foundation in Orlando for helping her get the screening that may have saved her life today.

Sanchez said she lost her Medicaid coverage around the time she noticed a lump in her chest and could not afford to pay for a screening.

That’s when the foundation stepped in and helped her financially.

“It’s extremely important to be screened for breast cancer,” said Tracy Harris, executive director of Libby’s Legacy Breast Cancer Foundation. “One in 8 women get breast cancer regardless of the family history.”

Harris said the foundation has seen more young women come in with an issue or need for a screening.

“Right now, in October, we have 16 clients under the age of 40,” Harris said.

Not every doctor or screening program will refer a woman who is not 40 or older.

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“Starting at 40 is (when) the doctor really states that that’s a good time to start screening for mammograms,” said Evelyn Dillard, coordinator of the Breast and Cervical Early Detection Program in Orange County.

The program helps uninsured and underinsured women get screened, but if clients are under 40 years old, they must have a family history or show symptoms of breast cancer to be eligible.

“If they’re having some kind of discharge—it could be white, it could be blood, something severe like that—we would definitely check them out,” Dillard said.

As a young survivor in remission, Sanchez thinks women should always have the option for early screening.

“To me, it doesn’t make sense,” Sanchez said. “People unfortunately are dying from it and are getting diagnosed at stage 4 because they are not screening for it.”

Sanchez has even experienced the pain of losing a loved one to the disease.

“My best friend passed away at 25 from breast cancer,” Sanchez said.

Harris said many times, ladies turn to the foundation after being turned away from the doctor.

“We get the call that says, ‘I’m 26 years old, I have a lump in my breast and my doctor just said that it’s hormones. I don’t know what to do,’” Harris said.

She added this is very problematic.

Sanchez admits she has also had to fight for a screening and encourages other to follow their gut and speak up.

And as for doctors, her advice is simple.

“Just listen to us,” she said.

About the Author:

Treasure joined News 6 at the start of 2021, coming to the Sunshine State from Michigan.