What women don’t know can kill them.
It’s too late for thousands. They were never heard, or they didn’t have access to medical care, or they were so frozen by the discovery of a lump in their breast and what that would mean that they didn’t speak up until there was no way to save them.
In 1986, I co-founded The Rose, a non-profit breast cancer organization, because, frankly, I was outraged!
While I’ve learned a lot during my time with The Rose—about women and their resilience and the need for advocacy, there was no more effective education than what I received at the bedside of my dying mother.
My uninsured, frightened mother lost her life to cervical cancer which could have been detected and treated. She didn’t know where to go or how to get help.
At twenty-two-years-old, I was devastated and powerless.
Since that moment and all that have followed, my life revolves around providing women with quality care. Every time I meet another woman who has waited to long –because she didn’t have insurance or money or a doctor, I’m more resolved and outraged.
But I’m no longer powerless.
After years of trying to find a balance between despair and hope, I am certain that taking action is our only choice.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. “Awareness” can mean a lot of different things. It can mean having your mammogram or donating to an organization you admire or wearing pink to show you care. It can also mean seeking out knowledge and providing it to others. I’d like to do that for you today.
Did you know that before some very angry women intervened, the two-stage biopsy didn’t exist? Many women went into the hospital for a biopsy and woke up in the fuzzy aftermath to learn an essential part of their body, their breast, had been removed. That was in the 1980’s when little was known about breast cancer or mammography or the psychological impact this disease had on women and families.
Today, the recommendations from the United States Preventive Services Task Force threaten to eliminate screening mammograms for 40 year olds and limit annual screening for women over fifty.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month is about making visible the realities of breast cancer and who can and cannot have screening or treatment. It’s about learning, fighting and saying what needs to be said. The past is shocking and horrifying.
The future will be equally frightening if we don’t take action.
This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I ask that you start pointing out the threats that have the potential to overwhelm us.
Here are Three Things That Can Save Your Life:
Insist on having your annual mammogram. No matter what the Task Force has recommended, mammography has been proven to reduce deaths from breast cancer. Starting at age 40 gives you the best chance at survival. Remember, those recommendations are under a two year moratorium and can not be implemented…yet.
You know your body better than anyone else. Believe that if something is off, your intuitive understanding of your own physical health can save your life. Complete your own self-examination, pay attention to any changes and see your doctor for a definite diagnosis.
The sooner breast cancer is diagnosed, the higher a chance you’ll have of survival. Don’t wait a year, don’t wait a month, don’t wait a second to seek care especially if you have even the slightest suspicion.
One more thing you can do. Share your knowledge. Information has power, so use it. Say what needs to be said this October. Encourage another woman to have her mammogram.
Tell you story or help others tell theirs. How many women never knew they had a family history of breast cancer because no one wanted to talk about Auntie’s or Granny’s real illness? Most of us are active on social media, so in between posting adorable pictures of your kids or pets, post about how you or someone you know has been affected by breast cancer. Or simply mention your support. Your voice matters.
Go to the doctor, even though you’re afraid. Then demand quality care. Be an advocate for your body and don’t settle for anything less than comprehensive treatment. Ask questions and then ask even more questions.
We have a voice that women in my mother’s day and time did not and many women still don’t have today. This October, join me in being that voice, for screening, for quality care, for other women – together we can give breast cancer the ‘one-two punch’ and save lives.