Eastern Sierra’s community health care partners are teaming up this month once again to spotlight breast cancer awareness, and the effort may be more needed than ever before. Health studies across the nation show the pandemic deterred people from routine cancer screenings, and Inyo and Mono counties are not immune from this trend.

That is why Northern Inyo Healthcare District, Southern Inyo Healthcare District, and Toiyabe Indian Health Project joined with the Eastern Sierra Cancer Alliance to petition local governments to proclaim Oct. 15 as Community Pink Day in the Eastern Sierra. Communities across the country recognize Oct. 15 as National Mammography Day as signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

“We’ve seen some recent increases in cancer diagnoses,” says Rosie Graves, the oncology patient navigator for Northern Inyo Healthcare District. “Nationally, we’ve also seen some disparity in screening opportunities among rural communities, and within those communities, among Hispanic and Native American people. We’re hoping to help everyone get back on track with these screenings throughout the county because, in many cancer occurrences, early detection saves lives.”

The health care organizations are asking community members to show their support for Community Pink Day by simply wearing a pink shirt on Friday, Oct. 15. In doing so, the community will pay tribute to not only all the area’s mammographers, but also to cancer patients and survivors, and of course, to those the community has lost to the disease.

In addition to Community Pink Day, each health care facility will raise awareness in its own way, amid its own community with one visible exception.

“With permission from Caltrans, ESCA and other community groups hung dark pink ribbons along every Main Street on the U.S. 395 corridor,” explains Graves, who also serves on the ESCA Board of Directors. “We like to think of those as visible reminders that hopefully drive people to start rescheduling their screenings – be it for breast cancer, skin cancer, or colorectal cancer.”

For NIHD, October is an opportunity to unite its 570-plus member team behind a good cause. For the past several years, NIHD lent its support to ESCA’s 5K Walk and Run as well as providing ESCA with a home for its Resource Center at the health care district’s Birch Street Annex. The Resource Center is home to ESCA’s Angel Mentoring Program as well as a location for ESCA volunteers to meet with cancer patients seeking support and education.

“We could not serve our clients without NIHD’s ongoing support and we are grateful to the District for all they do,” says ESCA’s Andrea Shallcross.

Going into its sixth year, NIHD’s annual extended hours breast cancer screening program – Moonlight Mammograms – returns for at least two, but possibly three, nights. With COVID, the once walk-in sessions must now function on an appointment-only format.

“We have three nights set aside where we have extended our screening hours for those who just cannot make it in during regular business hours,” says Krissy Alcala, one of NIHD’s mammographers. “We filled the first two nights last week and are now working on the third. We do still have daytime appointments available as well.”

By getting a yearly mammogram starting at age 40, women who may have breast cancer can have it detected while it is in its earliest, most treatable stages. NIHD recognizes that for some women, the biggest challenge to getting a mammogram is time constraints.

Moonlight Mammograms appointments are full for Thursday, Oct. 14, and Tuesday, Oct. 26, with only openings available on Friday, Oct. 29, 4-7 p.m. All those completing their screening during Moonlight Mammograms receive a special goodie bag, featuring items from NIHD, Toiyabe, City of Hope, Adventist Health and Carson Tahoe Cancer Center.

Moonlight Mammograms is for annual screenings only. Women participating may use their insurance benefits, or for those paying without insurance, a reduced price is offered through NIHD’s WeCare program. Participants must be one year and one day past their last mammogram. Those with questions about insurance qualifications, financial assistance, or even the date of their last mammogram, may call (760) 873-2155 for details.

In addition, NIHD once again illuminated the Main Hospital building and the Diagnostic Imaging Center in pink lights for the month. Pink ribbon flags adorn the grass area in front of NIHD. NIHD employees and providers are wearing pink shirts every Wednesday and then some.

NIHD once again will host screening days for Toiyabe’s patients, and employee screening days for SIHD and the NIHD team.

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