At the age of 19 Benita Robinson lost her mother to terminal breast cancer.
Her mother was diagnosed at the age of 45 and died at the age of 46. Robinson at the time was a single mom navigating life. The tragic experience spurred her to become an advocate for African-American women.
“I wanted to do something that gives something back to people. I want to be in the helping field where I offer people resources,” said Robinson. “That’s when I went to college. I was 35 when I went to college at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.”
Her journey from tragedy through education led her to a life calling of service. Today at the age of 60 Robinson serves as Health Program Representative with SAGE, Minnesota’s Cancer Screening Program at the Minnesota Department of Health. SAGE offers breast and cervical cancer screenings for women. To be eligible for the program women must be ages 40-64 or younger if they have family history of breast and cervical cancer, have no insurance, has insurance that doesn’t cover screenings or has a deductible or co-pay and has an income that is 250 percent of the federal poverty level.
According to the American Cancer Society, in 2019 an estimated 268,600 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women and 2,670 in men. The breast cancer death rate is the highest for African-American women at 28.4 deaths per 100,000. It is recommended that women at age 40 start taking the annual clinical breast exam (CBE), mammograms at age 40 and cervical cancer screenings start at age 21.
Breast cancer screenings provided by the Minnesota Department of Health SAGE program are free for all women and men who meet the eligibility requirements. The breast cancer screening provides a breast exam and a mammogram, and the cervical cancer screening provides a pap test and pelvic exam. Screenings take place at more than 450 locations across Minnesota, including clinics outside of the metro area. If it is determined that treatment is needed after the SAGE screening, uninsured participants may quality for Medical Assistance for Breast or Cervical Cancer to receive coverage. This service provides coverage for treatment of breast or cervical cancer, or, pre-cancer of the cervix.
“I want women in general to just take care of their health, to put themselves as a priority. A lot of times we put everybody else in front of us. I really want to encourage people of color period to take care of yourself, get your screening get your physical,” said Robinson. “There are programs out there that have resources. If some women don’t qualify for SAGE program we can find them a low cost mammogram. We try to help women navigate services and screenings they need. We try to get referrals to MNSure to help them get insurance.”
For more information on the SAGE program call (651) 556-0686 or (888) 643-2584, or visit www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/cancer/sage/screening/index.html.