Thursday, November 19, 2009

Back When I Lost My Petals

A lot of people have asked me what I think of the raging controversy over mammograms and I'm scratching my head in wonder just like every woman on the planet. Our world got rocked this week when we were told, "Oh just never mind ladies, that whole schedule your mammogram thing was just a big canard."

At first I tried to look at this as a well-reasoned, fact-seeking journalist. Is this a battle between public health officials, who look at the big picture, and medical practitioners, who look at the individual? It looked as if it was one of those cost-benefit analyses that doesn't suit the individual but rather benefits the whole. Just 1,200 women will die if they don't have their mammograms between the ages of 40 and 49, but that offsets the costs to the whole. In other words, hundreds more will have to undergo unnecessary biopsies, lumpectomies and radiation and chemo for early cancers that might not ever develop. Well, ouch. That sucks. Too bad for you. But then you get that noble label of "Survivor" regardless, and you get to run in the race and collect the medal with the pink ribbon. It's kinda nice. Or, alternatively, in the cold cruel statistical world, if you really did have a cancer in that age group, well, you're dead.

So I went to my lady, Susan Love, and I thought surely she'd send me some Love and unfortunately, she wasn't all that helpful. Because, here she's gone and backed the committee's findings. And I was resisting that. But she thankfully offers some clarity, to the cost-benefit analysis formula (which shame on you, you journalists, you forgot to mention in your multiple reports) that the radiation the mammograms deliver might be the cause of future cancers. Now, that's true. You survive breast cancer at a young age and risk getting thyroid cancer from all the radiation that follows in the steadfast effort to make sure you don't have a follow-on breast cancer, or metastacize.

And, Ladies, don't read the New York Times, because that reporter (who will remain unnamed) has an agenda, or something. I just don't trust her. Besides, back in the day, I had the great misfortune to have had to check her material and well, hmm. But more importantly, when I was going through my treatments, a story she'd written had me all torqued and tangled up and it turned out that she just didn't have her facts straight and my dear oncologist, Dr. Fred Smith, had to straighten me out and explain the study to me in such way that one could only shake your head that the Times doesn't spend a little more time and effort checking her material first before publishing. (And that is a breathless and probably ungrammatical sentence.)

And while we're discussing bad-faith sources. Let's just send a huge, dark cloud to settle over any of those who would politicize this mashup. I'm talking about you, You Scourilous Republican Basturds, who would no sooner turn this into a debate over the state of health care reform. You are more deadly than the most viral of tumors and you should have to suck down a cupful of straight-up taxol without benefit of nausea medication as your punishment.

Here's the thing, I'm outside the committee's recommendations. My mother died of breast cancer in 1998 and so my sister and I started to have mammograms early. We do not have either of the known breast cancer genes. But then my mother's sister got it, too. So we obviously have some familial cancer issue. My daughters, too, are going to need to be ever vigilant as their father's mother and grandmother also had breast cancer. My two cancers--I had it in both breasts--came on quickly. I had skipped a mammogram. But my left breast had three tumors that weren't found on a mammogram. I found them and they were detected and confirmed by ultrasound. My right breast had the highly curable DCIS, which was detected by mammogram. That cancer detection probably saved my life because while everyone was focused on my right breast, I pointed out the irregularity in my left. And without all the fretting, I might not have done that.

So if you're asking me today, what I think. I just don't know. I want better answers and I want the people that I trust, Susan Love and Katherine Sebelius, and the American Cancer Society to get together and agree and make some sense of this mess. The American Cancer Society, this morning in the Post, said the data that the committee used was outdated. What? And Sebelius told CNN that the committee was not to be trusted because it was appointed by the Bush administration. What? So that gives me even more to scratch my head over.

Meanwhile, look at the picture. I was 45 years old. I was strong, healthy and fit. And I got breast cancer. And now I'm 49 and I'm a survivor and I got a couple of medals on pink ribbons for running the race. The Putterer


  1. Thanks for posting Beth. What has our world come to. No Mammogram until 50 and No abortion coverage in Stupak. Hope you are well. Richelle

  2. I posted your blog link on Twitter and my Facebook accounts. Some day I hope women's health is given fair investement with funding, resources, research, and advancing our health rather than digressing as we have this week.

  3. Thanks Martha. I'm glad you did that. Beth

  4. Hi Richelle! Doing great. Thanks for the comment. Beth

  5. I am pleased to share a link to the opinion of the UNC expert on mammography, Dr. Etta Pisano, who disagrees with the change and explains why: