Committing to Support Cancer Awareness Efforts in 2022

By Ashley Ezzio, ICCE, CD(DONA)

As I reflect on my key take-aways from 2021, I’m struck by a shift in focus. 2021 gave me several reminders of how precious my health and the health of those I love is. 

I’ll never forget the day this shift in perspective began. During another busy workday, I received a call from my closest aunt. She had finally rescheduled her mammogram after a grueling year of losing a loved one to cancer during the pandemic. Her results were in: she had breast cancer. 

What a wake up call! For almost three years I have served as an Outreach and Education Coordinator for the Iowa Breast and Cervical Cancer – Care for Yourself Program. I spend my days collaborating with leading cancer experts and advocates to promote cancer screening, and still, someone so close to me slipped through the cracks. 

4 Tips Iowans Need to Care for Themselves and Those They Love

As cancer advocates, we know that the COVID-19 pandemic has created new and unique challenges, causing many to put off their cancer screenings. I’ve renewed my commitment to never overlook my role as a mother, daughter, niece, sister, and friend and to start asking  “Have you had your annual mammogram?” “Have you had your regular Pap testing?” “Have you taken time to Care for Yourself?” We all need reminders that our health is important. Perhaps a gentle nudge to schedule a preventative care appointment could be the motivating factor someone you love needs.  

Tip 1: Pay Attention to Your Body to Know When Something Changes

One of the most important cancer prevention strategies you can take is to seek care when something doesn’t feel right. Knowing what is normal for you and your body and sharing that with a trusted health care provider can help identify any issues early.  

Physical changes should be examined by your doctor right away:

Breast Health

  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • itchy or scaly rash on the nipple 
  • A lump or hard knot inside the breast or underarm area
  • Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
  • Change in size or shape
  • Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
  • Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast

Learn more about knowing your normal from our friends at Susan G. Komen.

Cervical Health

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Bleeding that starts and stops between regular menstrual periods
  • Menstrual bleeding that is heavier or lasts longer than usual
  • Bleeding after sexual intercourse
  • Bleeding after a pelvic exam
  • Bleeding after menopause
  • Increased vaginal discharge

Fortunately, most cervical cancers develop slowly and can be prevented if you’re screened at recommended intervals.

Tip 2: Connect with a Trusted Health Care Provider 

Your health care provider is there to help you stay healthy. Make sure you feel comfortable talking about your health and any concerns you may have. 

Need help finding an inclusive breast or cervical cancer screening provider in your area? The Care for Yourself Program can help. With partnerships across the state, a patient navigator can help you find the provider you deserve. 

Tip 3: Know When to Get Screened for Breast and Cervical Cancer

Most experts recommend that women and people with breast/chest tissue begin having annual or bi-annual screening mammograms at age 40.

Starting at age 21 through age 29, women and people with a cervix should have Pap testing every three years. Beginning at age 30 through age 65, individuals should have primary HPV testing or co-testing every five years. After age 65, individuals should discuss their screening options with their health care provider.

A Confidential 3-Minute Quiz to Help You Assess Your Cancer Risks

If you are wondering about your personal risk factors and how that may affect your screening recommendations, you can start by taking the Care for Yourself Risk Assessment. If you have more questions or need help connecting with a health care provider in your area, the Care for Yourself Program can help. 

Tip 4: Use Iowa Breast and Cervical Cancer Program Resources for Help with Screenings

We all have barriers to getting screened. Sometimes it’s about finding a ride or getting time off of work. Other times it may be about the cost of the testing your doctor recommends. The Care for Yourself Program is a resource for all 99 counties in Iowa. Each county has a local program coordinator who can help you overcome these obstacles. 

Enrollment is simple. Connect with us today! Contact us or call 1-866-339-7909

Learn more at 

Your Recommendation Could Save a Life 

Years of research has shown that the recommendation of a trusted nurse, doctor, or other health care provider can drastically impact a patient’s decision to engage in cancer screening. 

Whether you are a health care provider, a loved one or a trusted friend, your recommendation could save a life. Make sure the important people in your life know that their health is a top priority. 

Just Announced: Care for Yourself Program Expands Eligibility to Serve Individuals Starting at Age 21! 

The Care for Yourself Program has provided free or low-cost breast and cervical cancer screening to eligible individuals for over 25 years. Now, the statewide program is announcing an expansion to its eligibility age to include individuals aged 21-39. This change ensures individuals ages 21 and older are able to access life-saving cancer screening. 

Mother and daughter dancing with caption "Be around for countless dance parties to come. Get a FREE cervical cancer screening today.The Care for Yourself Program provides:

  • Cervical cancer screenings, including Pap and HPV tests,
  • Breast cancer screenings, including clinical breast exams and mammograms,
  • Diagnostic testing, and  
  • Assistance with making appointments, finding transportation, accommodations for language needs, and other barriers to care. 

Individuals may qualify if they:

  • Are between 21-64 years of age;
  • Have a monthly income of $2,832 (take home pay) or less;
    *Add $983 for each additional household member.

Enrollment is simple. Connect with us today! Contact us or call 1-866-339-7909

Learn more here: 


Ashley Ezzio, serves as an Outreach and Education Coordinator for the Iowa Breast and Cervical Cancer Program – Care for Yourself – a free program provided by the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Additional Breast and Cervical Cancer Resources 

The Iowa Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Act  provides access to Medicaid benefits during the treatment period to Iowans diagnosed with precancerous or cancerous breast conditions and individuals diagnosed with precancerous or cancerous cervical conditions. Eligibility criteria does exist. For more information, contact Ashley Ezzio at [email protected].