The Women's Way Program has served 10,596 women in North Dakota since it began. During that time frame, 186 women have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and 261 women have been diagnosed with cervical dysplasias and cancer. The program offers free or low-cost breast and cervical cancer screenings to women who qualify.
In April of 2008, one local woman who enrolled in the program was diagnosed with cervical cancer and experienced the help of Women's Way throughout her diagnosis and treatment.
"It was about a year and a half that I wasn't feeling well. I knew something was wrong, but I didn't have insurance and I didn't go in for a screening. I had called three different doctors, but they weren't available until a few months down the road. That worked with my denial, and I kept on putting screening off," Beth Nelson, a Women's Way client, said.
Photos by Katina Tengesdal/MDN - - Beth Nelson, a Women’s Way client, holds a Women’s Way pen that was a key factor in her learning about the program.
Photos by Katina Tengesdal/MDN - - Nancy Stevenson, registered nurse and Women’s Way coordinator for First District Health Unit, left, and Beth Nelson discuss the Women’s Way program.
Nelson, who was a resident of Bottineau at the time, still felt afraid of what might be wrong. She was crying at work one day when her boss asked her what was going on. She confessed her worries.
"My boss had a Women's Way pen that had their number printed on it. He told me he had the number of an organization that could help," Nelson said.
Nelson promised she would call the number, and she did that day.
"It was hard to make the call. I had no idea where it was going to go. I just thought, something can't be wrong, I have too much to do right now. But most of all, I'm a person of honor. If I promised a friend I would make a phone call, I would make it," Nelson said.
"I didn't have any time to spare, as it turned out," she added.
Nelson was enrolled in the Women's Way program shortly after the phone call, and got an appointment for a screening. At the time, it had been nearly 36 years since she'd had her last cervical cancer screening, and she'd never had a mammogram.
"I was the type of person who wanted to take care of things by myself. I think it stems back from generations of women that were just taking care of business, just getting things done," Nelson said.
"We've come a long way, but in some ways we haven't. We still are the caregivers. Everyone else in our life comes first. Now I just want my granddaughters to know that their health and well-being should never suffer for a relationship or for any reason," she added.
After her screening turned up a suspicious result, Nelson had another appointment for biopsies. When the biopsies were completed, she was informed that she had cervical cancer. A whirlwind began.
"When I got that phone call, I already knew that it was serious, but I had already been wrapped in a protective layer. I knew I had people I could trust. Everything was done quickly and decisively, so I didn't feel any fear," Nelson said.
Women's Way was able to provide a way to pay for treatment.
"If a woman doesn't have insurance, we can provide the protocol to get them hooked into the state Medicaid program for treatments," said Nancy Stevenson, registered nurse and Women's Way coordinator for First District Health Unit.
Nelson was sent to Minnesota for further treatment, but was unable to be accepted into a treatment program because out of state treatment wasn't paid for. She came back to Minot and Trinity's Cancer Care Center, and started receiving chemotherapy and radiation.
"I didn't know what to do for treatment. Throughout my whole ordeal in Minnesota, Nancy was on the phone with me, she was just unbelievable. Throughout my treatment, she just kept reminding me of things, and of paperwork, and she was really proactive," Nelson said.
"They (Women's Way) were just providing for me in every way, in the financial, emotional, and spiritual sense," she added.
Nelson's cancer has since been declared in remission, and she has a new perspective on life.
"I did a little jig last night, out of sheer joy. I do still have problems, yes, but every day there are so many wonderful things to appreciate," Nelson said.
Women's Way is open to a women who are residents of North Dakota between the ages of 40 through 64 who meet income guidelines. Women qualify when they don't have insurance or they have insurance with high deductibles or co-pays that they can't afford, and when they don't have Medicaid or Medicare.
"What a lot of women don't realize is that you can still have other insurance and be on the program. Also, the income guidelines are changing every year. There are quite a few working women who are very eligible for the program," Stevenson said.
"It only takes about 30 to 35 minutes to enroll, and before we set up an appointment to enroll them, I can screen them over the phone as to whether or not they'll qualify," she added.