Not to brag, but I have dense fibrous breasts. They have held up over time. However, dense breasts also increase the likelihood of developing cancer. Last year, I found a lump and was ordered to have a mammogram and an ultrasound. It turned out to be a cyst, but they saw other “things” and were like, this is so fun, why don’t you come back in six months? The experience cost me over $500, which I contested. Kaiser then informed me that I had a “diagnosis” of fibroid cysts, which half of all women experience. They would have saved time if they had just diagnosed me with being a woman.
Thanks to the miracle of poorly researched female health sciences, this was not my first radiology rodeo. I have taken six trips to the radiology lab to determine if my mystery cysts or “ducts” have developed any scary properties. I am grateful that these irregularities have not been diagnosed as cancerous or even biopsied. However, the cost of these visits has netted out over a few thousand dollars and shaved a few years off of my life in anxiety and worry. Not to mention the rage and anger around the brutal irony that I pay premiums and spend money for tests so that Kaiser doesn’t have to pay more if I get sick. I protect Kaiser by taking these tests, save them money by paying for them, and, meanwhile, remain perfectly healthy.
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Over half of all women will experience a cystic lump at one point in their lives. If she chooses to have it looked at she may have to pay for that service. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, routine mammograms are covered by insurance. However, studies show that they don't reduce breast cancer mortality rates and can result in over-diagnosis. Also, mammograms can be painful and mortifying in that they assume our bodies are made out of silly putty and can shapeshift into the panini-maker machine invented around World War II. Unlike the iPhone (of which I have had five versions since 2010), mammogram machines have not changed much. Also unlike the iPhone, mammogram machines are exclusively for women. If men had to take a test that turned their testicles into pancakes, you would have NASA scientists working on breast cancer detection.
We do have a choice. We can choose not to undergo this CIA torture method. But we can’t ignore that aunt, mother, sister, or friend who went through a difficult diagnosis, treatment, illness or death. And we can’t ignore the statistics on breast cancer:
- About 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.
- About 40,920 women in the U.S. are expected to die from breast cancer in 2018.
Interestingly, 3,000 to 49,000 people will also die of the flu. So, at the high-end, the number of people who will die from breast cancer is around the same as those that will die from the flu. Every year, Kaiser gives me a flu shot. I don’t want the flu, but the chances of me dying from it are pretty slim. So, sure, I’ll take a needle if it will save me a week of misery.
However, those who will die of breast cancer will be overwhelmingly female. Many breast cancer screenings are not $10 at CVS or Rite Aid and can be a financial burden. Anyone who has fibrous, lumpy or cyst prone breasts, must have a "diagnostic" mammogram (not covered by insurance). It's another way of saying, “We don’t care” about this epidemic or the subtleties of women’s bodies, or how half of all women have dense fibrous breasts and need this type of screening.
What makes me incensed about the whole endeavor is a) the lonely horror of it, and b) the reality that someone profits off of an epidemic that affects millions, if not billions, of women. It reeks of white men sitting on boards thinking of women’s problems as trivial and irrelevant. It's the sleek brand of misogyny that devalues women in everyday ways; like a tax on tampons. Thanks to my friend the Internet, I know that I am far from alone in this struggle. One woman, a cancer survivor, was charged for her ultrasounds because she no longer had breasts to undergo a mammogram.
As Cosby, Weinstein, Trump, and others have illustrated, Western civilization’s acknowledgment of the rights of women remains nonexistent. Like the assumption that victims of assault and harassment “asked for it.” Or the unspoken belief that the care of our reproductive organs (and the humans created by them) should be our burden to bear. The condescending, patronizing letter from the claims department giving me a one-time courtesy reimbursement for the service of screening my body did not lessen my anger and fury. We need to demand more research and respect for female anatomy.
There is a movement to change the experience of breast cancer screenings. There's even an attempt to make mammograms more like a spa day. But no matter how much flute music and cucumber water you give me, I'm not squashing myself into that machine ever again. And I am not done publicly shaming Kaiser for flagrantly profiting off of a genuine threat to my health. The least they could do, however, is advance their methods beyond archaic practices on par with leeching and bloodletting.
Featured image: Anna Wiggins Instagram