Pink flowers

A Way Through

Women’s Way offers support for cancer screening and treatment

The inside of Kristi Lee-Weyrauch’s office is adorned with pink. Cancer awareness ribbons line the walls and cabinets on posters, cards, and other decorations. Just by stepping inside her office, it’s clear who she is fighting for and what she is fighting against.

Swan of hopeAs the Women’s Way coordinator for Fargo Cass Public Health, Lee-Weyrauch has spent the last 12 years working to spread awareness of, and urge screenings for, breast and cervical cancer. She, along with Lori Ziegler, run the branch of Women’s Way that serves Barnes, Cass, Steele, and Traill counties. Theirs is one of ten Women’s Way branches in North Dakota, which operate out of public health offices throughout the state.

Women’s Way is North Dakota’s breast and cervical cancer early detection program. The program helps cover the costs of office visits for breast exams, mammograms, and pap tests for eligible women. The program receives funding from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and is featured in every state, under various names. Though focused on
screenings and extra testing that may be required as a result, the support of Women’s Way does not end there.

“In 2004, [Women’s Way] started the treatment program. We don’t just diagnose [women] and then drop them,” says Lee-Weyrauch. “Now we can help them.”

The treatment program utilizes funding available through Medicaid to help pay for  treatment for women diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer. The funding typically lasts for the duration of treatment, too.

Women’s Way, and its sister programs throughout the country, began in 1997. Since then, 15,300 women have enrolled in North Dakota. In that time, Women’s Way has provided aid for 299 women diagnosed with breast cancer and 352 with cervical cancer. Compared to when she first became the local Women’s Way coordinator, surprisingly,  Lee-Weyrauch says the number of enrolled women has declined. While changes in federal healthcare have impacted enrollment numbers, Lee-Weyrauch says it remains a challenge to raise awareness of both screening recommendations and the services provided by Women’s Way.

“We need to get the word out,” she says. “We’ve been trying for years, and [women] still say ‘I just heard about it.’ ”

In January and October, awareness months for cervical cancer and breast cancer,   respectively, Women’s Way saturates local radio and television markets with ads. The rest of the year, healthcare referrals and word of mouth are relied on to spread the message. While healthcare providers do not always think to refer patients to Women’s Way, Lee-Weyrauch says it’s a great way for patients to learn about the program.

Pink balloons in the skyDue to the variety of information available today, there is often confusion about when and how often women should be screened. Even different doctors offer differing recommendations. Women’s Way recommends annual mammograms and pap tests every three years for women over 40.

Eligibility for Women’s Way support depends on income, family size, and enrollment in Medicare or Medicaid. Once enrolled, women are responsible for making their own  screening appointments, while Women’s Way handles the financials. Refugees and women on visitor’s or temporary visas are all welcome to seek enrollment. According to Lee-Weyrauch, the more enrollments, the better.

“Anybody can call,” she says. “Anybody who wants to enroll and do the screenings, we’ll take them in a heartbeat.”

Lee-Weyrauch’s will to help is strong and clear. As a registered nurse who’s spent time battling cancer of her own, the awareness ribbons on display in her office serve as a sign of devotion.

“If we can help even one woman, then it’s worth it,” she says.

To learn more about Women’s Way or inquire about eligibility, call 800.44WOMEN or visit ndhealth.gov/womensway.

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