Melissa Thomas was one of the main speakers at this summer’s Amish Health and Wellness Conference. She described her efforts as director of the Center for Appalachia Research and Cancer Education, which helps Amish women in Ohio get mammograms. This work is also detailed in a new piece by WOSU Public Media.

What jumped out to me in that article is that breast cancer was found to be the leading cause of death for Amish women under 60 in two regions Melissa is serving. This is due to factors including:

  • distance to a screening center
  • language barrier
  • cost
  • lack of knowledge of the resources available

There are also other factors depressing screening rates among the Amish.

Ella Miller, an 80-year-old Amish woman who survived breast cancer following diagnosis 30 years ago, now works with the mobile clinic as a community health worker.

Mobile mammography clinic. Photo by Page Pflegler/WOSU

Some of this is due to misconception about the effects of the screening, Ella says: “People think a mammogram will cause cancer”…”It’s very hard to get that out of their mind.”

Also complicating things is the fact that not all Amish women jump to get care if they are diagnosed. Ella addresses this:

“There are some people that think that is meant to be, and that is God’s plan for their life,” Miller says. “And there are those that refuse treatment, whatever, and they don’t seek treatments, that this is what God meant for them in their life. And whenever their life ends, so be it.”

Miller says a mastectomy years ago gave her a chance to fulfill her greater purpose: to help other women in her community.

“You should still do what needs to be done so God can heal you,” Miller says. “Because you need to help yourself, somewhat. Yes, God will help you, but you also have to do your part.”

Amish women in Holmes County were found to have been screened at only a 20% rate, versus 60% for non-Amish women in the county.

Melissa’s organization’s mobile mammography units are helping to increase these rates and get more women life-saving care.


Melissa also has a related second project, a unique photography book of Amish and Mennonites, created with Amish and Mennonite involvement. I’ll plan to share more of that with you soon. 

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