By Christian Dischler

We sat down for a conversation with Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center to discuss the importance of staying proactive in the fight against breast cancer, especially during a pandemic.  Johnnay Benjamin, the director of early detection and education, and Brittny Costella, an early detection specialist, provided methods to stay ahead and aware of breast cancer.

Women need to begin their preparedness by knowing themselves, according to Benjamin and Costella.

“If something is unusual or out of the ordinary, we recommend to get it checked out.  Also knowing your family history is very important.”  When asked about patient apprehension surrounding the pandemic, both specialists stressed the importance of maintaining medical screenings, “Our patients feel comfortable when they come in, we’re doing temperature checks, masks are worn, surfaces are disinfected and safe distances are maintained.”

Staying mindful means staying ahead and the value of early detection cannot be overstated. 

“The five year survival rate is the percentage of women who are still alive five years after their diagnosis.  For early stage detection, that number is 99 percent, but drops to 27 percent if the cancer isn’t detected and spreads,” Benjamin said. “Identifying cancer in its earliest stages gives us the opportunity to use all the tools we have to help that individual.”

These tools are abundant at Mary Bird Perkins, ranging from free breast screenings to multidisciplinary teams of doctors and post-diagnosis nurse navigators to help you and your family through the process.  It’s important to remain informed of the options available. 

“Everyone is welcomed to be screened.  It’s about providing access that goes beyond financial status,” Benjamin said.

Prevention is paramount to surviving and the center spearheads a Prevention on the Go program, which allows free access to a mobile breast screening unit that accommodates schedules and follows CDC guidelines for cleanliness and social distancing.  The outreach of the program is substantial and is making strides in providing women breast screenings.

“More than ever before, we’re relying on people in the community to spread the word on awareness.  Please encourage women in your life to schedule their appointment now, and don’t wait until next year,” Costella said.

One of the best ways to inform others is to promote routine screenings. 

“We say make it a birthday present to yourself.  Life can be chaotic and that’s a great way to remember to get screened annually,” Benjamin said.  “Breast cancer doesn’t only happen in October.  A lot of women feel like they need to take care of everyone else, so this is an opportunity to take care of themselves and make sure they’re around to support their families.” 

“Even if you share this information with one other person that could be the life we save,” Costella said.

For more information on how to schedule a screening, donate to their cause or volunteer to help in the fight against cancer, visit or call (985)276-6810.

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