By Steve Blanchard - September 23, 2022
Myriam Escobar knows everything there is to know about breast cancer screening. For nearly a decade she worked at Moffitt Cancer Center in the community outreach program dedicated to ensuring women from all backgrounds knew how and where to get their yearly mammograms.
So when her own mammogram came back with a breast cancer diagnosis, she knew what to do and where to go. That’s a luxury many in the Hispanic community don’t have.
“I knew that every April or May I get my mammogram. I matched it with Mother’s Day,” she said. “On April 29, I got my mammogram. Two days later, I got my diagnosis.”
The decisions were easy for Escobar, mostly because of her familiarity with the subject after working in the community outreach program for so long. But the native of Colombia realizes that for others in the Spanish-speaking community, navigating health care and a cancer diagnosis can be extremely challenging.
Her cancer was in a very early stage, which was good news. When she was presented with options for treatment, she chose to undergo a mastectomy because she didn’t want radiation. Her mother had breast cancer and it returned after 10 years of remission. She wanted to reduce the chances of that happening to her.
“Being a patient was very strange for me,” Escobar said. “During my time as a Moffitt team member, I worked too many times in the same places trying to help the Spanish women of our community who don’t speak English or have insurance.”
During her time on the outreach team, Escobar said she would meet women in the strawberry and farm fields of Florida, encouraging them to get screened.
“One of the challenges was teaching their husbands the importance of mammograms,” Escobar said. “Some husbands didn’t want their wives to receive screening.”
Despite her knowledge in breast cancer care and screening, Escobar said navigating her own treatment was still challenging. Thankfully, she was able to use Moffitt’s Language Services team, which presented her medical information to her in her native language of Spanish, which offered some additional comfort to her and her family.
“I understand about 80% of English,” she said. “But when it comes to information from doctors, it can be difficult because different words can mean different things. Having that resource was so valuable and hearing someone greet you in your native language immediately put you at ease.”
Information is the key to better health outcomes, especially in underserved communities. Escobar, who is now cancer free and is under a doctor’s supervision, remains committed to ensuring her community knows the importance of early detection and how it can save lives.
“I can really feel what a woman who is not informed and who doesn’t have the information about it faces in this situation,” Escobar said. “This diagnosis was a blessing, in some ways. It put me on the other side of the scenario and made me realize that I was able to help others who have been in this moment of diagnosis.”
While small advances have been made in Hispanic outreach, there are still many challenges to overcome. Escobar specifically points to language barriers, transportation challenges and the simple lack of information available to that community.
"Spanish women give everything to the family, their kids and husbands. They don’t think about themselves. "- Myriam Escobar, breast cancer survivor
“Some in my community have never heard the word ‘mammogram,’” Escobar said. “For them it was a whole new thing. Spanish women give everything to the family, their kids and husbands. They don’t think about themselves. Even if they have symptoms and see the signs of something not right with their health, they don’t seek treatment.”
“When she asked to see my surgical scars, I said, ‘Sure,’” Escobar said. “She has questions, and she needs to know the answers. It’s the best way to educate her and do the right thing for her future.”