During the COVID-19 pandemic, like many people, Helen Jean Scott missed her annual mammogram. Then her focus turned toward helping care for her grandchildren, who unexpectedly lost their mother in late 2022.
“I had mammograms every year, but then during COVID, it seemed like everything just stopped. I just thought I’d wait until it was over to get my mammogram,” she said. A woman at Helen’s work, though, kept encouraging her to go to the doctor. “She said, ‘I’m not trying to scare you, I just want you to be safe.’ Every time I saw her, she would say this to me. And I thought, well, maybe I should.” Shortly after Helen went for her mammogram, she received a phone call from the doctor’s office. There was a spot on her breast.
A biopsy confirmed Helen had triple negative breast cancer (TNBC). “I knew nothing about breast cancer. Nobody in my family had it,” she said. “They did genetic testing and it’s not genetic. You know, we worry about things happening as we get older, but breast cancer was the least likely thing I would have worried about. It didn’t seem like something I would ever get.”
Helen had chemotherapy, followed by a lumpectomy. Once she healed from surgery, she started radiation therapy. “That was really hard for me. I had no idea how hard the radiation treatments were going to be,” she said. She developed lymphedema in her right arm, a complication she wasn’t expecting. “My arm is swollen a bit and it hurts, but it’s not as bad as some people get.”
Helen had been working full time at a local department store, but retired when she began caring for her grandchildren. She was covered by Medicare when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and her caseworker worked with her to find funding to help pay for her treatment. But there were other bills Helen hadn’t planned for and needed help with.
“Even though a person may appear to be financially secure, they might not be. Sometimes people need help. It could be temporary, just to pull them through until they can make it on their own,” Helen said. “I worried my electricity would be turned off, and there was no place for me to turn.” She and the grandchildren she cares for receive food assistance, but it doesn’t cover all of their expenses. Her caseworker told her about Komen’s Financial Assistance Program and Helen filled out the paperwork.
Within days, Helen was approved for help through Komen. “It was such a precious gift,” she said. Being able to manage her bills while undergoing treatment made it possible for Helen to care for her grandchildren at a time when they needed her most.
“I’m here for my grandchildren,” she said. “I don’t know where they would have been if I hadn’t been here for them.” Helen also hopes others will take their health seriously. “It’s just so important for women to get their mammograms, to not miss their appointments.”
Despite major advances in breast cancer treatment, many patients struggle to access care due to a host of financial pressures. Read how Komen is helping to alleviate the financial toxicity of breast cancer.