Pink is Everywhere, But Really, How Much Has Changed Since 1986?
The year was 1986. I was in my twenties, living in Washington, DC., and recently diagnosed with breast cancer.
I was fortunate to have had health coverage with access to early detection and screening, although the tumor could and should have been detected and treated earlier – perhaps even preventing major surgery and aggressive treatment.
When I first mentioned to my doctor that I felt a small nodule, he said, “you’re too young, I’m sure it’s nothing – let’s just watch it for a few months.” I didn’t really think much of his response, because at that time, there was not much in the news about breast cancer…and definitely not a topic of discussion in my family. Three months later, the nodule had grown and spread to my lymph nodes.
I was a young woman with big dreams of a big career in business. And, if I am honest, I was also extremely vain about the appearance of my hair. In an effort to prepare me for the loss of my hair, my oncologist introduced me to another African American survivor whose hair had started to grow back after chemotherapy. She encouraged me to buy a wig.
Bubble over head: there is no way I’m wearing a wig, especially in my twenties; although I would consider it now… with the gray. While my hair became thinner, I did not believe that I would lose my hair, and never purchased a wig.
Times have changed as I have matured and my views have shifted because now, I would definitely get that wig and would encourage women experiencing hair loss to do what makes them comfortable. Resources and supports for scarves, wigs, and other such supplies are available through organizations such as The Witness Project in Bridgeport and the Sister’s Journey (New Haven).
Note: I did not lose my hair. As you can see in the picture, you could see right through my hair, but I didn’t lose it!
So what’s changed since 1986?
Did you know that Connecticut has the second highest rate of breast cancer in the country, according to 2010 data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services? American Cancer Society estimates that in 2013, 3,050 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 460 women will die from it in Connecticut.
What is even more surprising is that women of color, who make up only 27.6% percent of the state’s population, die as a result of breast cancer at much higher rates. Nationally, even though the rate of breast cancer incidence is 10% lower among African American women, they are 40 percent more likely to die from the disease. Source: National Cancer Institute 2013. See Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2010
Since the mid-1990s, the mortality rates have declined for both white and African American women, although more slowly among African American women than among white women, according to Susan B. Komen. So the bottom line is that what hasn’t changed much is that too many women are still dying of breast cancer, unnecessarily so.
There is hope in the Affordable Care Act.
Through the ACA, women, especially women of who die at a much higher rate from breast cancer may just have a better chance at living longer. The new Health Care Law offers a number of provisions related to breast cancer screening:
- Ensure that individuals with a history of breast cancer are no longer denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition. (Effective beginning 2014 for most plans)
- Prohibit the use of annual dollar limits on coverage and lifetime limits that leave cancer patients without coverage . (Effective beginning 2014)
- Ensure that mammograms and other proven preventive services are administered at no cost to patients. (Effective as of 2011 in Medicare; effective in 2010 for new plans and 2014 for those newly eligible for Medicaid)
To read the full list of provisions in the health care law, ACA Breast Cancer and the Health Care Law.
Wouldn’t it be great if five to ten years down the road with health coverage fully implemented, if Connecticut would no longer rank second in the country for having the highest rate of breast cancer, and if women of color were no longer diagnosed with breast cancer too late– often resulting in death. I believe this could be our reality… with ACA and provisions for breast cancer fully enforced to educate, prevent, and treat all women, especially African American women.
It is imperative that we keep breast cancer awareness in the forefront the remaining 11 months of the year.