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SALT LAKE CITY — Jennifer Jensen tries her best to take care of herself. It's difficult sometimes, though, because she's homeless.
"It's a different lifestyle. It is hard core. It sucks you in," the 44-year-old Jensen said Wednesday. "I want my kids around me. I want to be done with this."
Jensen is working with available resources to get her life back on track — to get back into an apartment and into the workforce. As a former CNA, she is looking forward to taking classes and getting recertified to be able help others again.
But, before she can help others, Jensen said she has to help herself.
As a regular patient at the Fourth Street Clinic, Jensen was invited to participate in a free mammogram on Wednesday. The service was made available through a partnership between Mountain Medical and Susan G. Komen Utah, to make sure every community of women gets a chance at early detection.
Utah has a high incidence rate of later stage, more deadly breast cancers, but experts believe that may be due to a significantly lower rate of women getting tested, according to Liz Palazzolo, who manages a mobile mammogram truck for Mountain Medical. She said that since the truck and accompanying technology was made available, Utah's screening rate has increased.
"These are women who are not getting screened regularly or are getting screened for the first time, so our rate for the detection of cancer is above average," Palazzolo said.
Early detection of cancer, however, leads to less invasive treatment measures, resulting in a greater return on investment for the general public, said Katherine Riser, public relations manager at the Fourth Street Clinic. She said that offering health screenings and preventive services to an uninsured population leads to a greater cost savings for the community at large.
Twenty-four homeless women were scheduled to get mammograms on Wednesday, which Riser said is impressive, "because of the many obstacles they face in life."
"It's a big deal," she said. "They're taking care of themselves and putting themselves as a priority."
Before getting tested on Thursday, Jensen said she's been trying not to worry about the things she cannot change. She tries to eat as healthily as she can while living on the streets and staying at the local homeless shelter. She doesn't drink or smoke, either, out of a determination to be healthy.
"I've tried to do the best I could. Every woman should," Jensen said.
Finally succumbing to the procedure was an act fueled by guilt, she said, as her older sister has survived two bouts of cancer, including lymphoma as a teen and breast cancer in the last decade. An uncle with cancer also recently passed away.
"I just kept putting it off," Jensen said, adding that her sister's courage and survivorship has been motivating. "I can't think of a lady I look up to more."
The Fourth Street Clinic offers free or low-cost medical care to homeless people in the area. Riser said each patient completes mental health screenings and wellness checks prior to receiving care. The facility, located at 409 W. 400 South, doesn't provide emergency care, but it does have an on-site pharmacy and offers various specialty services, such as obstetrics and pediatrics, among others.
"We've found it is easier for this population to take care of themselves when they have access to free health care," Riser said. The clinic has no radiology equipment on site.
Mountain Medical's mammography vehicle began offering mobile services in late 2012 but partnered with the state to reach an underprivileged population of women in 2013. Throughout this year, the van and its accompanying staff have assisted more than 120 homeless women with mammograms.
The clinic also offers swag bags and a $20 gift card to the homeless patients who return to the clinic for the results of their test. Any positive results among the homeless patients will be followed up with Intermountain Healthcare facilities and physicians.
"These preventive services are crucial, and without them most of our patients wouldn't get a mammogram at all," said clinic manager Tiffiny Gregory.
The Mammobile, as it is called, is also available to participate at corporate events and health fairs throughout the state. It has also traveled as far as southwestern Wyoming to make getting a mammogram easier for some women, Palazzolo said.
While Jensen knows she's responsible for choices that led to homelessness, she is hoping to not add a cancer diagnosis to her list of things to overcome. But, she said she is glad for the opportunity to be tested and will take whatever comes.
"I want to be free of this and have a better life," she said.