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A return to health beyond COVID-19

Lee-Anne Johnson carries out breast-screening and bone density scans at Waterloo Nuclear & Radiography. [Damon Maclean]

Between a health-care system focused on COVID-19 and a public largely in lockdown, routine health checks such a mammograms were on the backburner. As more facets of everyday life return, so too do other aspects of health care.

Not considered essential during the lockdown, the Ontario Breast Screening Program (OBSP) is now operational again at locations such as Waterloo Nuclear & Radiography (WNR) near St. Jacobs.

“Essentially, with the COVID situation, a lot of women who have had their breast health screenings postponed delayed or been on hold, for instance since March,” explained Rhonda Lee, WNR’s clinic care/outreach coordinator, adding there’s the potential of a backlog given all the downtime.

Adding to the situation is the fact that “they also have not been able to send out the typical screening invitations and those reminder letters and those recalls that women used to rely on in order to know that they were due.”

Lee said she fears that “women don’t know that the services have reopened. And so, they may be putting their breast screenings and breast health on hold, simply because they don’t know that OBSP has started up again.”

At the WNR office, they have a mammographer to serve those looking to be screened. Women in the age bracket of 50-74 should be screened every two years. “The big thing is that there’s no referral, no requisition or there’s no permission needed if you’re in that age category,” said Lee.

Mammograms are covered under OHIP, and WNR is an accredited facility under OBSP.

Lee-Anne Johnson is referred to as the women behind the mask and the mammography machine. She has been performing mammograms for more than a decade, as well as bone mineral density scans. A graduate of Fanshawe College, she’s been calling this area her home for the last 20 years or so.

“The more regular screening you get, the better the chances of them finding the lesion or tumor; when it’s smaller, lesions are easier to treat. So, we try and detect breast cancer very early, if we can,” she said.

Johnson aims to comfort those seeking the procedure and explains the steps of getting a mammogram. The feng shui of her room encourages women be at ease during the procedure, which Johnson assures  shouldn’t be a painful one.

“Basically, when we start the exam, I take the woman from the waiting room, bring her back into this room. I’ll sit her down on the chair, close the door. I introduce myself: ‘My name is Leanne. I’m one of the technologists here today. We’re going to be doing your mammogram.’ We start by going through a questionnaire –  the Ontario Breast Screening Program provides a standard questionnaire that we go through, like past medical issues with the breast, any surgeries on the breasts, any family history of breast cancer, that sort of thing on the questionnaire. We go through that. I explained what we’re going to do – ‘have you seen one of these units?’ We put the breast on the platform here, this compression pedal will come down, and it smoothes out the breast tissue. So, we get a better look at what’s happening underneath the skin. It’s a tight grip, but should never be painful.’

“So, I explained all that. I asked her if she has any questions, answer any questions that she has, and then we do the procedure,” Johnson explained.

After taking the images, she informs the women that they will be notified by their doctors of the results in the next couple of days. Typically, letters are also sent out from OBSP, but that process remains on hold due to COVID-19.

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