Jackie Smith, nurse navigator for The Memorial Hospital, holds up a bouquet of red roses in the radiology wing of TMH. The waiting room area is designed to soothe patients on their way to a screening, and all women receiving a mammogram can take home a rose and chocolates if they wish. Having survived breast cancer herself, Smith said she instinctively feels the compassion needed for her role as nurse navigator. The quilt of pink ribbons pictured behind her was made by former TMH employee Judy Downing in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Photo by Noelle Leavitt Riley

Jackie Smith, nurse navigator for The Memorial Hospital, holds up a bouquet of red roses in the radiology wing of TMH. The waiting room area is designed to soothe patients on their way to a screening, and all women receiving a mammogram can take home a rose and chocolates if they wish. Having survived breast cancer herself, Smith said she instinctively feels the compassion needed for her role as nurse navigator. The quilt of pink ribbons pictured behind her was made by former TMH employee Judy Downing in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Your Health: Northwest Colorado offers many options for women’s health

Guide to breast self-exam

Breast exams can be performed at home in several steps:

In the shower: Put one hand behind your head. With the pads of your three middle fingers, move your hand over your entire breast area. Use the method recommended by your health care professional. Use your right hand for your left breast and left hand for right breast. Examine each underarm with your arm only slightly raised. Check for knots, lumps or thickenings.

Lying down: To examine the right breast, place your right hand behind your head. Follow the same technique as in the shower, using your left hand to examine your right breast. Then put your left hand behind your head, and repeat steps with right hand for left breast.

Before a mirror: With hands firmly pressing down on your hips, check for changes in the shape, size or skin texture of your breasts. Also, check your nipples for changes, including any unusual discharge.

Consult health care professionals about any questions before or after performing a self-exam. Information about self-exams and mammograms can be found at The Memorial Hospital and other health agencies in Northwest Colorado as well as the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Each year, the medical field makes new advancements in better identifying its patients’ issues and treating them in the best manner possible. The number of strides within the health care sector is no different for Craig and Moffat County, and one demographic has seen a multitude of growth in recent years.

The opportunities for women’s health care in Northwest Colorado are better than ever, according to area professionals, and one part of that is the amount of awareness of what is available in terms of care specific to females.

Local outlets such as the Yampa Valley Pregnancy Center and Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, among others, have provided women’s services for quite some time, and the task of getting the word out about everything they have to offer continues to be part of the battle.

Suzi Mariano, communications director for the VNA, said many uninsured or underinsured women who seek out the organization’s services are unaware of their options, which also include the statewide program Women’s Wellness Connection.

“It’s a very good resource, and if you meet their criteria, you can get free cervical and breast exams through our clinics with them,” she said.

Women’s Wellness is a program James Summers recommends. Summers, who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology with The Memorial Hospital, has seen a number of patients who are hesitant to seek out help for health concerns because of the financial side.

“You can’t force anybody to do some of these things, but all I can do is counsel them on what they can do and be sure to inform them about what they have available to them,” he said.

After practicing in Craig and Steamboat Springs for much of the past decade, Summers joined fellow OB-GYN Scott Ellis in working out of the TMH Clinic full time in February. Their work ranges from taking women through pregnancy and delivering healthy babies to keeping their patients happy.

Summers said the biggest health concerns for women anywhere are not exclusive to females — heart disease and obesity hit women as hard as men.

“It all kind of goes together and attacks us in trying to live the way we want to live in trying to stay healthy,” he said.

Even so, his advice to all patients in his field is to stay aware of threats specific to women's bodies, including ovarian, cervical and breast cancer, by partaking in pap smears, mammograms and similar testing to stay one step ahead of disease.

“If you don’t look, you’re not going to find anything,” he said. “A lot of things have changed since I was in Craig before, but the community has a wonderful resource for health care with a state-of-the-art place like TMH.”

TMH has seen numerous improvements within the past several years since moving to its current facilities in 2009. Gynecological surgeries such as hysterectomies and other procedures now are available at the site, and equipment for the delivery of newborns continues to improve.

Technology like digital mammography also ensures women can get the best possible picture of their health.

October in particular is a big month for the radiology department with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the statistic that one out of every eight women will develop breast cancer is a reminder to employ early detection.

The Mammos and Margaritas event at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Holiday Inn of Craig will give women an idea of the importance of getting examined at age 40 and older, with a discounted rate available this month.

Last year, TMH performed 967 mammograms, 115 of which were in October. There were 12 mammograms performed at the hospital in 2012 that tested positive for breast cancer.

The new waiting room of TMH’s radiology wing is designed to look like a spa to aid in the relaxation process for patients leading up to a mammogram or other procedures. The walls are painted a tranquil, earthy green, the lighting is low and all you can hear are the sounds of a small running waterfall hooked up to the wall and the soothing music provided from an iPod dock on the end table.

With amenities like free roses and chocolates available to women receiving a mammogram, the more unpleasant details of the process almost are forgotten. Radiology technician Chris Winn and nurse navigator Jackie Smith also try to make it as painless as possible.

The nurse navigator position, started at TMH in September, is one that involves a registered nurse taking care a step further by guiding patients through every stage, from the examination to the diagnosis, and if necessary, Smith will be available to help patients as they decide on the best path and go through treatment.

Having received a bilateral mastectomy herself after being diagnosed with breast cancer last March, Smith said the compassion needed for the nurse navigator role is something she feels instinctively.

“I tried to have a positive attitude through my whole thing when I was going through chemo, and for myself, I think the reason it happened was so that I could help other people go through it,” she said. “I really feel like this is what I was meant to do,”

Andy Bockelman can be reached at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.

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