Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. The Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization aimed a lot higher.
However, the nationwide firestorm of protest over the foundation’s shameful slashing of grant funding to Planned Parenthood, and the injection of political ugliness into its basically pristine image, has served two good ends.
Komen accidentally created awareness about – and financial and moral support for – the good and necessary work that Planned Parenthood does to improve women’s health across the country. Plus, it put back into the spotlight the need for women to get mammograms to test for life-threatening breast cancer.
I know. I just found out that I have breast cancer.
I found out because of a routine and long-overdue mammogram screening done through a free clinic. For that, I consider myself lucky and am grateful.
I am one among many. According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly 227,000 new cases of breast cancer are reported each year, with more than 39,500 deaths of women in the United States.
Breast cancer doesn’t distinguish based on income or skin color. Neither does it choose its targets based on size of household or size of house – or no home at all.
Cancer doesn’t care if its victims have the best health insurance coverage or no insurance at all.
However, the need for access to free or low-cost mammogram tests is universal. The likelihood of being screened for breast cancer increases if you’ve got a good health insurance plan; the need for low-income or no-income women for access to these tests is greater because people without insurance frequently don’t go for regular checkups.
I don’t have health insurance and I am jobless and homeless, despite a lengthy professional career and a good college education. I had my only mammogram more than 15 years ago when I was 40. I wasn’t avoiding one; with every other financial and life challenge before me, it just wasn’t on my “to do” list.
Two weeks ago, I found out for sure that I have a type of cancer that was detected only through a recent mammogram that I received as a qualified “charity care” patient through my local hospital’s free outpatient clinic. It was on my doctor’s “to do” list as a 55-year-old woman.
Good thing, too. My cancer – lobular invasive carcinoma – is so far hidden deep inside my left breast that neither self-examination nor a trained physician would have ever found it. As the National Cancer Institute points out in encouraging women in their 40s or older to get mammograms every one to two years, “A mammogram can find breast cancer that is too small for you, your doctor, or nurse to feel.”
My free mammogram detected. An ultrasound confirmed it and a biopsy proved its certainty. Same-day surgery is scheduled at the University Medical Center at Princeton this week. Pathologists will analyze the tissue and tumor the surgeon removes and then I will learn if I need chemotherapy and hormonal therapy in addition to the six weeks of Monday-through-Friday radiation treatments. I am hopeful.
Although I’m long known it, I now know from experience that diagnosing breast cancer early is critically important and that mammograms discover breast cancers long before they grow large enough to be felt or to be seen with visible symptoms – or worst yet, become widespread and kill.