The Francine’s Friends mission

Marita Dwight-Smith, director, Francine’s Friends, talks about the history of the Francine’s Friends mobile mammography coach and what the service means to women in our area.

I have been a mammographer and on the clinical end of women’s breast imaging for almost 30 years. In 2009, when I was the director of the Breast Diagnostic Center, one of my roles was to manage the equipment and staff for the Francine’s Friends mobile coach. For the first time in my career, I was able to help provide funding for our mammography patients that were noninsured or underinsured.

The history

Francine’s Friends began in 2005. When Francine Shubert lost her battle to breast cancer, several of her friends came together and wanted to honor Francine’s spirit and drive to provide screening mammograms for those who were unable to access this important screening tool. The group was comprised entirely of volunteers, who raised the money to purchase the mobile coach and provide funding for those who were not insured. They partnered with Parkview and the Breast Diagnostic Center, and the program has grown to what it is today.

The mission

Francine’s Friends has two main goals: 1) To provide mammogram screening to areas where women have difficulty accessing healthcare, and 2) To provide screening mammograms to every woman, regardless of her ability to pay.

With the mobile coach on the road six days a week, it is a highly visible reminder to have our wellness checks. We see about 4,000 women a year on the mobile coach and 30-40 percent will require funding. Francine’s Friends finds between 25-30 cases of breast cancer every year.

Not only does the program provide funding for the screening mammogram, Parkview then provides funding for additional imaging if required, all the way through biopsy and pathology.

The experience

The mobile coach functions like an extension of the mammography departments, so the patients are getting the same equipment and staff as they would at a facility. It also provides a host of opportunities for screening, appearing at community functions such as health fairs and events to speak and educate on breast health and early detection. The stories of this program detecting cancers at an early stage, when it is most treatable, are numerous and impactful. Many ladies will say, “I was just driving by and saw the coach and something nudged at me to get my mammogram and that’s how they found my breast cancer.” 

The community

Something I never could have imagined, is how the community supports and embraces the program. Lots of people just walk right on the coach at a community site and say thank you for Francine’s Friends and for what you do for our community, and share their personal story or a story of a loved one touched by breast cancer. 

I can remember one of the most moving experiences I had was at the Breast Cancer Walk four years ago. I had decided instead of the mammographers and team walking as we had always done, we needed to see all the participants and be more involved. We sponsored a water station, rented a DJ and had the coach parked beside us. As the parade of walkers came down the street, we couldn’t believe their reactions - they were applauding, cheering and were so excited to see us. Survivors were running up to the mammographer that did their exam, hugging them and crying and full of gratitude. Needless to say, that is our new post at the event. The radiologists even attend now. It’s priceless!

Find us

We can be found at a number of community and business locations, as well as special events, such as the Fort Wayne Tin Caps Pink Out games, several third party fundraisers for Francine’s Friends, high school sporting events and golf outings.

For more information about our schedule, consult the Classes & Events section on parkview.com, or follow @parkviewhealth on twitter for daily updates.

 

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