Sitting in the piazza on November 1st, my heart was full and tears slowly slid down my face. Across from my table, parked in Piazza Roma was a portable – fully operational – medical unit. They were here not because there was an earthquake or flood or any other tragedy. They were here to prevent the tragedy of families loosing wives, mothers, sisters and daughters to cancer. Cancers that can be cured or held in remission with adequate warning. This was a portable screening center for female centered cancers. Pap tests, mammograms and colon screening tests were available. The set up was in the piazza all day, from 9:00 AM until 6:00 PM. The posters and social media posts all touted “ Campagna di Prevenzione Oncologica Gratuita.” This was a free health project of the Region of Campania. The medical unit was stopping in small towns all over the region. It was so simple for people to access this service. Women only had to call Pontelandolfo’s city hall to make an appointment for Pap tests or mammograms. The colon test kit was available by simply walking up and asking for it.
The sun was shining on the outdoor waiting area. From my seat, sipping my cappuccino I could hear “numero 25 mammografia.”The medical team welcomed people as they ventured near the area. I noticed that men have also gone in to pick up the colon cancer test.
The set up was slick. The front had video projections “Mi Voglio Bene” talking about each of the available tests. This campaign urging women to love themselves and get screening is fabulous. Imagine, something like this pulling into small towns all over America! Actually, I would love to imagine it but sadly I don’t know if it would ever happen. I mean, politicians don’t seem to give a tinker about women’s health issues and too many voters don’t understand the validity of universal healthcare.
I first found out about the testing center on FaceBook – which is the major news vehicle here. Later, the posters in stores, on walls and in the newspapers reminded me to find out what I was eligible for. At first, the snarky Midge giggled at the thought of joining a line of woman, without underpants, waiting for their internal exams and pap smears. Crude of me, I know. Then I started to think about my mom dying of breast cancer because the diagnosis was too late and I stopped giggling. I started appreciating what was happening not only in Pontelandolfo but all over Campania.
When I first got to the piazza at 9:00 AM, there weren’t any people waiting for services. I was one of the first women up the steps. Everyone was warm and friendly. I stoped at the reception desk and jokingly said I knew I was too old for everything but a colon test. Why did they limit mammography to women between the ages of 50 to 69, I asked. Younger women get ultrasounds. Both tests are given if something is found on one. I always wondered why we don’t use ultrasounds more in the USA. Believing on earring on the side of caution, I have been know to tell a tale to get an ultrasound. My breasts are dense and since my mom died of breast cancer, I often come up with some strange complaint to get one.
Then, I asked about the other age restrictions. Just like the USA’s medicare and other insurances, the national health care system restricts tests based on some data or another. For a Pap test the age range is 25 to 64. Every year a I beg for a pap-test. Medicare doesn’t cover them for old ladies either. Don’t old women get utero cancer??? A mammography is available for women between the ages of 50 and 69. I was obviously too old for that too. Though, when I talked about my mother dying of breast cancer, I discovered that they of course make exceptions. The Colon Cancer Screening kit was for folks between 50 and 74. It was the only test I hadn’t aged out of. The receptionist, who was charming and answered all my questions, asked for my health card and phone number. She then, just like at the deli, she gave me a number. I’ve noticed that in Italy, numbers are given out in medical waiting rooms. As part of their privacy laws, the nurses can’t bellow “Guerrera.”
My test — – Since I was the only one there, I didn’t really need the number. I was immediately ushered into a private room and asked for my particulars – name, address, phone number, my health insurance card had pulled up my residency and date of birth information. A second nurse came into the room and explained the test. Simple – take sample from – no I will not describe how to take a stool sample. The important thing was after the sample is in the glass holder, I had to take it to the analysis center in Morcone. I wondered why people couldn’t just run home, do what they had to do and bring the sample back to the portable center. Morcone is only five minutes away so it will be no big deal. If I don’t hear anything in ten days, the test was negative. I wish they would tell you either way. I think I’ll ask.
Sadly, for the three hours I sat at Bar Elimar I didn’t see hordes of women going to the center. November 1st, Festa di Tutti i Santi – All Saints Day, and a national holiday so it should have been easy for people to come. They are constantly coming but there is not a surge or a long line. Gulp, I just remembered women made appointments! Perhaps they are staggered appropriately.
For fun, when I got home I googled the ranking of the United States on health care issues. Every list I found from the World Health Organization to independent foundations ranked the USA – well not well. Never in the top 20. Just another reason to rethink the system of providing health care for not only women but all Americans.