Dynamic Diaspora: Women and Immigration

Part: 1

Few Care for the Undocumented With Breast Cancer

Monday, March 15, 2010

Undocumented women with breast cancer in Arizona depend on community clinics and sliding scale fees to get services. For many, financial barriers and fear of deportation delay or prevent treatment, echoing problems nationwide.



Yolanda Tufail, a nurse at Maricopa Medical Center Oncology Clinic, speaks with an immigrant woman who is a breast cancer survivor.PHOENIX (WOMENSENEWS)--Flor regrets that she didn't come sooner to Maricopa Medical Center Oncology Clinic.

"When I found out, I was desperate because I thought I was going to die," said Flor, 46, an undocumented women who asked that her name not to be revealed. "I didn't want to look for help because of my immigration status."

Instead she did what neighbors told her to do for breast cancer: drink tea from a yerberia--an alternative medicine store--and use homemade ointments to reduce the swelling.

When she arrived at the clinic two years ago, she was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer, a form of advanced cancer that begins in the breast and spreads to other organs. This type of cancer cannot be cured, but it can be treated. For now Flor's condition is stable, but she will never be in remission, where her symptoms disappear.

"When they come here it is often too late," said Yolanda Tufail, a registered nurse who works on chemotherapy infusion at the Maricopa Medical Center Oncology Clinic.

The clinic provides something of a rarity in Arizona: access to chemotherapy for breast cancer, doctor consultations and medicine at an affordable rate.

Undocumented women with breast cancer in Arizona have to rely on community clinics and sliding scale fees to get services. Help is not easy to find. When it does arrive, economic barriers and fear of deportation often stand in the way or delay treatment.

Nationally this population faces an uphill battle navigating the health care system. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that 6 in 10 Latinos who are undocumented immigrants lack health insurance.

Latina women are more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage of breast cancer and have a higher mortality rate than white women, according to the American Cancer Society.

Foregoing Treatment

Undocumented women are more likely to forego treatment because of the costs involved with their care, said Mollie Williams, director of community health programs for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a foundation that provides grants for services and education on cancer. "It is likely for these women to fall through the cracks."

Williams said in some cases service providers who receive grants from the foundation have reported that women were able to cover the cost of their mastectomy and initial care using their state Medicaid emergency insurance. This type of coverage is available to anyone, regardless of immigration status.

But breast cancer is a complex disease that requires an assortment of specialists, expensive medicines and follow-up care. Treatment could extend for up to five years and cost between $20,000 to $60,000.

In some areas community clinics can only diagnose the cancer, but there is no follow up.

"We are able to screen them, but there's not much we can do after that," said Lucy Murrieta, an outreach community relations manager for the Sunset Community Health Center in Yuma County.

The center, near the Arizona-Mexico border, provides primary health services to over 6,000 agricultural workers, about 60 percent of whom are women. The center doesn't inquire about women's immigration status, said Murrieta.

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DYNAMIC DIASPORA: WOMEN AND IMMIGRATION SERIES

Series Overview

Dynamic Diaspora: Women and Immigration

Part: 12

Few Care for the Undocumented With Breast Cancer

Part: 11

Nebraska Prenatal Bill Stirs Fight Over Immigration

Part: 10

Visas Out of Hell: Women Need to Know They Exist

Part: 9

Deportation of Mothers in Iowa Tests Local Charity

Part: 8

Women's ESL Dominance Tied to Job Demands

Part: 7

For Street Vendor, Another Holiday in Shadows

Part: 6

Arrested Iowa Meat Packers Live in Legal Limbo

Part: 5

Battered Immigrants in Arizona Find Few Havens

Part: 4

Recession Shrinks Safety Net for Immigrant Women

Part: 3

Immigrant Survivors of Abuse Seek Freedom

Part: 2

U Visas Speed Up for Immigrants Who Flee Abuse

Part: 1

U Visa Recipients Look for Better Enforcement