Ladies First promotes cancer screening among low-income women

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BENNINGTON - Jacqueline DeRosa spent two hours at the gym one day last week, doing a full-body workout that included walking on the treadmill, lifting weights and doing abdominal exercises on the floor. This has been her thrice-weekly routine since 2016, when she signed up with the Ladies First health program.

At that time, DeRosa had just retired from her job as a drugstore manager in Manchester, and she was drawn to the program's free health club membership. She'd always wanted to join a gym, but work had kept her so busy she only had time to exercise at home.

Besides staying physically active, the Arlington resident wanted to find ways to remain connected to the community and mentally engaged. She remembered some of her former customers' stories about being retired and bored.

"What happens is then you get sick, then you become overweight because you start eating, then you get depression because there's not much to do," DeRosa, now 64, said after her workout at Anytime Fitness on Wednesday.

"But when you come over here, you meet different kinds of people. When you do the exercises, your mind is focused in what you're doing," she said.

Ladies First, a state program for women funded by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also offers free screenings for breast, cervical and heart diseases - mammograms, pap smears and tests for blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.

The program's "goal is to increase screening for low-income women," said Sue Kamp, director of physical activity, nutrition and women's health at the Vermont Department of Health. "We know that early screening and early identification of cancer result in greater survival rates."

The program will pay the deductible for a mammogram and/or pap test - even if the member has health insurance coverage - if further testing is required to reach a diagnosis, said Cindy Krautheim, a Ladies First representative who works with the Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services nonprofit organization.

Ladies First members who get diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer receive treatment plans under Medicaid, which cover "all medical needs till the cancer treatment ends," Krautheim said.

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The Vermont program, established in the 1990s, assists as well with nutrition counseling, health coaching, weight loss and quitting smoking.

Members in the Bennington area also are invited to join GBICS' Food Fit, a 10-week course that promotes nutritious eating and exercise. Participants learn how to plan meals around various types of produce, such as grains and vegetables.

"I knew about quinoa, but I didn't know how to use it," DeRosa said. "Now I use it for salads and soups."

A native of Ecuador, DeRosa used to cook white rice three to four times a week for her and her husband. She has since switched to brown rice and prepare it only three times a month.

There are currently 110 Ladies First members in the Bennington area, and Krautheim's goal is to keep reaching more women. Throughout the state, there are about 800 members.

In order to join Ladies First, a woman has to be a Vermont resident, at least 21 years old and earning an income of at most 250 percent above the poverty level. For a household of one, this means a maximum annual income of $31,225; for two, $42,275; for three, $53,325.

Women on Medicare don't qualify to join, and only those at least 40 years old can get the free heart health screening and health club membership.

Transgender men and women who meet eligibility requirements can also take advantage of the program. To find out more, visit ladiesfirstvt.org or contact Krautheim at (802) 447-3700 ext. 4 or cindychamp14@gmail.com.

DeRosa, meanwhile, was also happy to share that since joining the gym, her cholesterol level has gone down and her osteoporosis has stopped advancing.

Tiffany Tan can be reached at ttan@benningtonbanner.com, @tiffgtan at Twitter and 802-447-7567 ext. 122.


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