Early access to a mammogram may have saved the life of Michelle Bell.
The breast cancer screening, conducted nearly 20 years ago, discovered a lump early enough for doctors to remove the cancerous tissue from the Bellmore mother of three.
And while the cancer returned a decade later — this time with fatal results — Bell’s son, Jonathan, is grateful for the additional time the early detection provided him and his family.
Now Jonathan Bell, a Garden City employment attorney, is seeking to honor his mother’s memory by providing that same critical examination to other Long Islanders, including those with physical disabilities and those without insurance.
Bell has joined forces with the Long Island Center for Independent Living, a nonprofit that advocates for people with physical disabilities, to bring an accessible mammography van to Island Trees Public Library in Levittown on Saturday.
"If I can get women who don’t normally have access to get mammograms, just by getting the word out there, we can literally save a life," said Bell of Woodbury. "And that’s my goal. To try and save some lives and to get people to have this examination."
The custom-designed 40-foot van, which will be staffed by Stony Brook University Hospital radiologic technologists, offers state-of-the-art digital 3D mammograms. The facility has a waiting area, private dressing room and a complete exam room.
Free screenings will be done by appointment only and can be scheduled by calling 631-638-4135. They will be available to all women who meet the eligibility criteria, including those without insurance and those with or without disabilities.
Patients should bring a photo ID and their insurance card, if they are insured, and not wear deodorant, perfume, powders or creams on the breast area.
Therése Aprile-Brzezinski, director of planning and public policy at Long Island Center for Independent Living, based in Levittown, said women with physical disabilities have traditionally had difficulty accessing mammograms.
"Early detection is key," Aprile-Brzezinski said. "It saves lives. Women with disabilities historically go without these screenings and that often leads to dire consequences and even death. For all women, particularly those with disabilities, getting these tests means life. And it means quality of life."
Michelle Bell, whose maiden name is Atran, was born and raised in Cuba, where her family was financially successful and owned several clothing factories.
But when Fidel Castro came to power, her family lost everything, and they immigrated to the United States.
Michelle, who became a part-time travel agent, and her husband, Louis Bell, eventually moved to Bellmore and had three children.
She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003 following a mammogram.
"It was a scary event," Jonathan Bell said. "She had a lumpectomy and the doctors said they needed to monitor her for five years. If [the cancer] did not come back, we were mostly free and clear. Then all of a sudden 10 years later it came back with a vengeance."
This time, the cancer could not be contained and Michelle Bell died in 2013. She was 71.
Bell said he hopes the van is utilized by those who may typically not have the opportunity, either due to cost or access, to obtain a mammogram.
"And hopefully," he said, "it can prevent them from going through what my mother had to go through."
- Must be female and 40 years of age or older
- No mammograms in the past year
- Not pregnant or breastfeeding
- No implant or breast issues, such as lump or nipple discharge
- Never previously diagnosed with breast cancer
- Office visit within the last year with a gynecologist, primary care physician or internist who is willing to accept the results of the screening
Source: Stony Brook University Hospital