Serving the women of West Virginia
By Gailyn Jackson Register-Herald Reporter
Bonnie’s Bus — a mobile 3D mammography collaborative program between the WVU Cancer Institute and WVU Medicine — continues to offer private breast cancer screenings to women in rural parts of West Virginia with limited or no access to screening mammography.
According to the WVU Cancer Institute, Bonnie’s Bus was created in 2009 in honor of Bonnie Wells Wilson, who battled breast cancer for 20 years before finally succumbing to the disease in 1992.
Having spent her life in a remote area of the state, Bonnie had no access to screening mammography — a service that could have potentially saved her life.
Bonnie’s daughter and son-in-law, Bonnie “Jo” Statler and Ben Statler, started Bonnie’s Bus for two reasons. First, to ensure that women would have comfortable and easy access to life-saving screening mammograms for early detection of breast cancer and, second, to help make sure that other families would not lose their mothers to cancer due to a lack of access to mammograms.
“…it can just make the lives of these families much better because they’re not going to lose their mother to this disease,” Jo stated in an interview.
In 2009, the Statler family made a donation to the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center at West Virginia University, which endorsed the Bonnie Wells Wilson Mobile Mammography Program, as well as two endowed research positions at the university.
“There is just such a need for this because so many lives could be saved. Early detection is the key; it’s the answer,” Statler said, describing the program. “The bus is a wonderful facility… It will travel throughout the state of West Virginia and hopefully reach women who have not had access to the mammogram.”
The Bus serves women with private insurance, Medicaid, or Medicare, as well as women who may be under-insured or even uninsured who qualify for the West Virginia Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program.
Grant funds and donations are available to cover the cost of the screening for women without coverage so that no woman age 40 or over is ever turned away.
Currently, over 1,500 women have had their mammograms paid through external funding.
Jenny R. Ostien, director of mobile screening, was appointed to the position in 2018 but has been affiliated with Bonnie’s Bus since the very beginning. According to Ostien, standard screening deadlines apply to women age 40 or older, but in special circumstances (such as a family history of breast cancer) Bonnie’s Bus has screened women who are younger.
Each year, Bonnie’s Bus works with clinics, hospitals, businesses, community partners, and health care providers to coordinate visits and patient care.
According to Bonnie’s Bus’ annual report, the bus completed 153 visits over 19,047 miles and detected 14 new cases of breast cancer in 2018.
The women whose mammograms indicate a need for further diagnosis and treatment are referred to their local physician or health care facilities for further diagnostic evaluation.
Since its creation, Bonnie’s Bus has provided thousands of mammograms to the women of the state.
According to Ostien, the program celebrated 20,000 screenings in early August, and to date, 90 women have been diagnosed with breast cancer following their bus screening.
“Mammography screenings are the best way to detect early signs of breast cancer, but not everyone has access to screenings either in their community or within an easy driving distance,” Ostien said. “…We try to find the sites in the most need of our services.”
“Bonnie’s Bus is important because we take mammograms out to women in rural communities and surroundings they are familiar with. They don’t have to drive to a big city in an unfamiliar setting; instead, they can stay close to home and receive the same level of screening they would in a hospital.”
When performing screenings, Bonnie’s Bus is staffed with one mammographer and one driver who also acts as a registrar.
Each screening takes approximately 15 to 20 minutes and primarily the bus prefers for women to schedule appointments so that they can request any prior films the patient may have had done. Walk-ins are also accepted depending on the number of scheduled appointments and the clinic the bus is working with at that particular location.
As for the future of Bonnie’s Bus, Ostien states that the program hopes to maximize their screening days to make sure that they are full to screen as many women as possible.
While Bonnie’s Bus works diligently to provide these crucial tests to the women of West Virginia, Statler continues to be optimistic that the cure to cancer is not far out of reach.
“My hope is that with all this continuing research, they are going to come up with a cure very soon. Possibly we won’t need the mammograms in a few years.”
For more information on Bonnie’s Bus such as services, bus staff, fundraising events and where they are headed next, visit wvucancer.org/cancer-prevention-control/bonnies-bus or the Bonnie’s Bus Mobile Mammography Program official Facebook page.