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Mammogram van at FedExField centers equity issues around breast cancer health care

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A superhero-like presence made an appearance at FedExField on Monday, October 17th.

"You can't see it but this van right here has a cape, because it saves lives," Vicky Russell-Walton said to the crowd at Legends Plaza.

The villain that van will help fight is not any bad actor from a Marvel movie, but rather the very real and prevalent threat of breast cancer. Run by Breast Care for Washington, the mammogram van was the main feature of the Commanders' inaugural breast cancer awareness health fair and is the only facility to offer state-of-the-art 3D mammography to medically underserved populations east of the Anacostia River. As an important resource that can move to serve communities at no cost to patients, the mammogram van helps to address life-or-death health equity issues.

Numerous studies have shown that breast cancer disproportionately impacts women of color. Dr. Regina Hampton, a breast cancer surgeon for last 17 years who spoke at the BCA health fair, has become intimately familiar with that fact and her concern led her to her life's work.

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"Women of color tend to get breast cancer at younger ages so that presents a challenge to a lot of providers who are not aware of that," Hampton said. "Many times, these women are told 'Oh, you're too young, come back when you're 40.'…that may be too late. When she does finally get evaluated, it's usually a more advanced stage cancer…So it's really about trying to educate the community to be empowered to say, 'No I've got this problem. Please take a look.'"

As Prince George's County's leading breast surgeon and the founder of Breast Care for Washington, Hampton has committed herself to making a difference and trying to change this trouble phenomenon. Breast Care of Washington's mammogram van has become an invaluable tool in that pursuit.

"The van is about being right in the community where the need is greatest," Hampton said. "We're really happy to partner with the Commanders to make this successful in the community."

Dorothy Duppins, a PG County resident for 25 years, was so excited to hear that the mammogram van was coming to Landover. Duppins, who popped by FedExField on Monday to get her mammogram, feels encouraged by the impact an initiative like this can have.

"I think it's awesome, because it's about community outreach," Duppins said. "Even those who don't hear about it or didn't get an e-mail about it, the visual out here when you ride past and you see it, that'll spark people curiosity and make them want to stop by and check it out and make sure that they're safe and healthy."

There is perhaps no bigger advocate for the mammogram van than Vicky Russell-Walton. The two-time breast cancer survivor who also spoke at Monday's event has dreams of mammogram vans being as widespread as gas stations are around the country.

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About 15 years ago, Russell-Walton was close to becoming a statistic. Despite having all the symptoms of breast cancer, she was misdiagnosed four times and found her pleas for further evaluation ignored by her doctor.

"Last time I spoke to my doctor when I was misdiagnosed, he told me that I was interrupting his golf game and to stop calling. 'You're fine,' he said. 'Stop calling me. There's no reason for you to call me,' And so I had to fight," Russell-Walton recalled. "Thank God I listened to my body."

Now, she educates others about the importance of self-advocacy and is passionate about making breast cancer health care more equitable. When barriers to access are lowered or removed, she preaches, lives are saved.

"Women are afraid to go to the doctors often times or they don't have transportation, or they don't have childcare…you pull that baby [the van] up in front of the community and say, 'Hey, I don't care what kind of insurance you have. Come and get your girls checked out,' and they will come," Russell-Walton said.

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