by Photo by Sarah Berjan

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, San Ysidro Health partnered with Northgate Gonzalez Market to host their fifth free mammogram pop up event to promote the importance of screening for early breast cancer detection.

California residents regardless of citizenship status may qualify for a free mammogram and clinical breast exam done by a provider through the Every Woman Counts program if the individual has a family history of breast cancer, over the age of 40 or exhibiting a symptom of breast cancer.  According to Rosa Sandoval, Manager for the Department of Women’s Health for San Ysidro Health, men may also qualify for this program. 

During the pandemic, San Ysidro Health serviced almost 1,000 patients during these free screening events according to Vice President & Chief Medical Officer Maria Carriedo-Ceniceros, M.D and in this year alone,150 patients were newly diagnosed with breast cancer. 

Northgate Gonzalez Market has offered numerous health screenings like mammograms at their locations since 2010. Community engagement and Wellness Director Teresa Blanco said “getting an annual mammogram is being proactive and by bringing these kinds of screenings to our communities, we are removing barriers”.

“Your survival means everything to your families,” said Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas who previously served on a health care committee in Sacramento as an assembly person. Her demonstration of San Ysidro Health being a “really culturally competent healthcare organization” as an assembly woman became the model for many other health care clinics.  

According to Kevin Mattson, president and CEO of San Ysidro Health, approximately 1 in 8 women in the US are diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. There are over 3.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States. 

“Organizations like San Ysidro Health provide free services inside of grocery stores, so come get your COVID-19 vaccination, get your pan dulce, tortillas, and make it happen. This is about convenience and about being culturally competent and recognizing that  we meet our community where they are. It’s really maximizing those efforts” said National City Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis, who for the first time publicly shared her experience with cancer during the pandemic. 

About two years ago, Mayor Sotelo-Solis consulted a doctor for the pain and aches she felt on her left breast and was told to simply change the bra she used. A secondary trip to the doctors office raised concern after finding something. After receiving a mammogram and upon further examination by a specialist, a water cyst was found.

“Please check your bodies. Whether it be for moles, bumps, coughs or headaches please make sure that you have those follow- ups,” Sotelo-Solis said. “It is very uncomfortable. If you ever tried to put on a shoe that is a little too small, think about that 20 times worse in a very vulnerable part of your body.” Sotelo-Solis said. 

Soltelo-Solis said no biopsies were performed and is currently being monitored by doctors for breast cysts and moles found on her body. Among the many roles Sotelo-Solis is also a melanoma skin cancer survivor. 

“I think as we share our stories and as we identify and get to know our bodies as women, and even men because they can get breast cancer as well,” Sotelo-Solis said. “All of these challenges and things that survivors overcome, we are all here for us to celebrate, to continue to monitor because we need to make sure we prevent people who may not have access to health care to get those screenings”

At the pop-up, Southwestern College Board President Leticia Cazares wore a shirt that read “Chingonas Fighting Cancer '' in memory of Maria Buhian who passed away the day of Cazares’ breast cancer diagnosis. In March, Cazares will be three years free of breast cancer. 

“We know that breast cancer doesn't discriminate but unfortunately black and brown women die at higher rates because of systemic racism and barriers to care such as lack of health insurance, inability to pay and yes discrimination… There are barriers and it’s really important to recognize that because I have encountered them” Cazares said. 

According to a recent study through the CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program  the number of screening tests declined by 87 percent for breast cancer and 84 percent  for cervical cancer during April 2020 in comparison to averages of 5 previous years. Declines in breast cancer screening varied from 84 percent among Hispanic women to 98 percent among American Indian/Alaskan Native women. Declines in cervical cancer screening varied from 82 percent among Black women to 92 percent among Asian Pacific Islander women.

However, according to the journal Preventive Medicine in a study examining the impact of COVID-19 on Early Detection Programs,  Black women have the highest rate of deaths due to breast cancer at 26.9 compared with White women at 19.4 per 100,000 women. Additionally, Black and Hispanic women are more likely than White women to be diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer which is especially aggressive and associated with poor prognosis.  

According to The Center board member Zaneta Encarnacion, the LGBTQ community suffers from health inequities and oftentimes don't visit healthcare providers because of negative experiences like disriminaiton. A recent study showed that nearly 60 percent of the LGBTQ community ages 50-74 received the recommended mammogram in the last 2 years compared to 76 percent of the general population. 

According to Cazares, disparities in screening care don't stop there as ongoing care and treatment support for breast cancer patients and those who are survivors of breast cancer are practically nonexistent.

“Survivorship has been harder for me than any part of treatment. I’ll take breast cancer treatment any day. We don't talk about that enough. I am here to tell you that those of you who are survivors, know of survivors or are caregivers of survivors, you know it’s a long road after treatment. Survivorship can be brutal. The psychological side effects, the physical, there is so much we have to navigate while dealing with the side effects of this treatment,” Cazares said. “I would not be here had it not been for my caregivers, my family and my support that includes many of you in San Ysidro Health. We do not support the caregivers enough. I want to let you all know from the bottom of my heart that you are living angels and you mean more to us than you realize, next to doctors and nurses”.  

Free mammogram services are offered at Northgate Gonzalez Market at 1058 3rd Avenue and at multiple locations throughout San Diego County. People must schedule an appointment for free mammogram screenings by calling (619)662-4100 ext. 3226 or by visiting


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