Dollars for Mammograms had a slow start in 2000, said founder and president Rita Bertler of Englewood. It wasn’t for a lack of funding. And in addition, the one-page application was simple and copies could be found “everywhere we could think to put them,” Bertler said. The problem was that women had a hard time believing they could really get free mammograms.
Meanwhile, the economy worsened and more and more women in the Charlotte County area became uninsured. Bertler began to rely on physicians to encourage women to take the nonprofit’s form with them and apply. It worked.
Through her charity, not only do women get regular mammograms, but also when medically necessary, a breast ultrasound or a stereotactic or ultrasonic needle biopsy. Nearly 3,000 women – and men, for they can get breast cancer, too – in Charlotte and southern Sarasota counties have been served through Dollars for Mammograms. The program’s income threshold is higher than what most charities offer, so it helps what Bertler calls her “working poor women.”
She understands their struggle.
Wisconsin natives, Bertler and her husband moved to Florida in 1986. They owned and operated the Peppermill Restaurant and jewelry shop in Englewood for years. But she did not have health insurance. So when Bertler found a lump in her breast, she panicked. Her mother had had breast cancer. And then Bertler found a second lump. Both turned out to be benign, but the experience would change the course of her life.
“When I was lucky twice, I had to pay it forward,” she said. So Dollars for Mammograms was born. She has convinced individual donors and businesses to buy into her dream as well. “I do believe a small group of determined people or just an individual can accomplish great things.”