BUCKHANNON — The story is one Cheera Rinker and Gary Osborne hear over and over again — the tale of women who otherwise wouldn’t — or couldn’t — receive mammograms but are now able to, thanks to Bonnie’s Bus Mobile Mammography program.
And it’s always told in the grateful voices of females over age 40 who live in rural areas and find it difficult to travel long distances to hospitals for medical services. But thanks to Bonnie’s Bus — which winds through West Virginia delivering mammogram services to women residing in outlying areas — many of them are able to have the critical annual test they might otherwise skip.
Last Wednesday, the pink-and-blue bus pulled up to Community Care clinic in Rock Cave to provide services to patients who live in the southern end of Upshur County or elsewhere.
“Some of these women wouldn’t even get their mammogram done if it wasn’t for us,” Osborne, the driver of Bonnie’s Bus, said. “We hear that over and over again.”
Mammograms, which are recommended annually for women ages 40 to 55, are the main method used to detect and prevent breast cancer. Beginning at age 56, doctors recommend women have the test performed every other year, unless there are some extenuating circumstances, such as past positive test results.
Rinker, the Bonnie’s Bus mammographer, and Osborne travel all over the state from April through November in Bonnie’s Bus, which operates under the umbrella of the WVU Cancer Institute.
Bonnie’s Bus was named for Bonnie Wells Wilson, of Blacksville, who died of breast cancer that, if detected early, may have been successfully treated.
“It was caught late because she lived in a rural area,” Rinker explained. “Her daughter, Jo Statler, and son-in-law, Ben Statler developed the concept of Bonnie’s Bus in honor of her so that way women in rural areas could get screened and no one else would have to lose their mother or sister to breast cancer.”
Rinker says traveling in Bonnie’s Bus is “absolutely rewarding.”
“The patients are just so nice and grateful,” Rinker said, “and they’re always so happy that we come to them. I get to see the state, and it’s beautiful.”
Two grateful patients – and sisters – stepped in Bonnie’s Bus on that recent sunny Wednesday morning. Carol James, of Braxton County, and Connie Bleigh, of Ireland, took a trip to Rock Cave to secure their annual screenings.
“It’s nice not to have to go to the hospital because you usually have to wait longer,” said James, who sat outside in the waiting area while her sister received her mammogram. “It’s a more streamlined process than it used to be, doing it this way.”
Inside the Community Care clinic, Kara Siford, M.D., the clinic’s general practicioner, said she appreciates that Bonnie’s Bus comes every year when they’re invited.
“It’s very beneficial to people who may not otherwise get their screenings done,” Siford said. “One in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, and early detection is key. The patients find it convenient and almost pain-free and they have a good experience with the bus.
“Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women and there are opportunities for good forms of treatment if detected early enough,” Siford added.
The Bonnie’s Bus program provides screenings to women with private insurance as well as Medicare and Medicaid, according to its website.
The program also provides funding to pay for the mammograms of women who are uninsured or underinsured through the West Virginia Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening program.