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Nurse tries to help homeless women screen for breast cancer

Nurse Jacqueline J. Master knows first hand how deadly the disease is

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MIAMI – Many of the low-income women who arrive to a homeless shelter in downtown Miami have never had a mammogram.

Most of them don't have health insurance. They have other priorities. Some have lost their jobs. Others are dealing with mental health or substance abuse issues.

Jackson Health System operates an ambulatory care clinic inside the Chapman Partnership homeless shelter, 1550 North Miami Ave. Nurse Jacqueline J. Master has been working there for many years.

"We had a patient  who had a tumor in her breast that turned out to be cancer," Master said.  "We sent her to get treatment at Jackson Memorial. She left the shelter and I don't know if she still lives. I do wonder."

Master is vigilant about breast cancer. She saw the disease kill her mother.

"It wasn't easy to watch her go through treatment," Master said. "I don't take it lightly. Self-exams, mammograms and education are all very important."

When Master meets women at the Chapman Partnership shelter, she asks them if they have noticed any abnormalities in their breast tissue and talks to them about self-exams.  Sometimes she provides clinical breast exams. This is when a health professional feels the breast and armpits for lumps.

Jackson Memorial Hospital's Taylor Breast Health Center offers reduced diagnostic mammograms, ultrasounds and biopsies.  Master said she refers them there when they need to get screened.

"I haven't had anyone lately with a suspicious tumor," Master said. But that is not necessarily a victory and she knows that.

A recent George Washington University's Jacobs Institute of Women's Health study concluded that the overall low rate of mammograms in the homeless population compared with the national average is alarming.

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