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MAMMOGRAMS, MORALITY, and MONEY in the 21st Century:

Posted Nov 21 2009 7:34pm


While I don’t like to think of myself as being jaded, the events of the past weeks are causing me to lose hope as decisions are made by those in positions of power, especially with regard to women’s health and the availability (or not) of mammograms.

Don’t misunderstand. I know, as well as everyone does that we are living in difficult economic times and that corners have to be cut. It’s the particular corners and the manner in which policy makers, talk show hosts, and journalists are choosing to express their views that I find particularly disturbing. They leave me wondering, in fact, if we are becoming a society which no longer values the life of individuals when they fail to fall into statistically “acceptable” majorities.

Moving to douse the flames of confusion caused by the Unites States Preventive Services Task Force’s recommendation two days earlier, Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday that women should continue getting regular mammograms starting at age 40 (contrary to the task force’s suggestion of age 50).

As reported by the Associated Press: "The task force has presented some new evidence for consideration but our policies remain unchanged" she said, while adding that she encourages “women to set their own course on mammograms in consultation with their doctors.” In her final comments, she stated: "Indeed, I would be very surprised if any private insurance company changed its mammography coverage decisions as a result of this action.” Well, guess what? In her brief time as Human Services Secretary, Sebelius has been surprised many times, and my guess is that this is certain to be yet another one of those surprises.

When The Associated Press further reported that the panel of doctors and scientists concluded that “early and frequent screenings often lead to false alarms and unneeded biopsies, without substantially improving women's odds of survival,” their recommendation was fortunately and loudly criticized by breast cancer survivors who were diagnosed at a young age as well as the the Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the American Cancer Society.

So, my concern remains: who will ultimately decide which of us is “worthy” of being screened and which of us is not? Who will decide what the “accepted” age should be for preventive action and under what circumstances? Do I sense insurance companies preparing more “CLAIM DENIED” stamps?

If so, what will that say about us as a society? It seems that whatever progress has been made in my life-time (and I am 68) will count for nothing, since I know many cancer survivors (including those as young as in their 30’s) whose cancer could only have been detected on a mammogram.

Once again, with the kind of double talk that Sebelius and others have been launching, we women in the 21st century just may become (if we are not already) casualties in a dreadful economy with leaders who have a diminished desire to treat women as anything but second class citizens or worse.

How can we then not be left wondering if anything would be different if those who sit on the committees and others who eventually pass laws had a mother, sister, wife, daughter or granddaughter? Surely if they did – to say nothing of the fact that some of them are themselves women – perhaps they'd put on a different thinking cap and understand better what Sebelius's statement really means.

If it were not so transparently despicable, it would be laughable. But you won't hear me or most women laughing! That's for sure!

Will it take men being told when they can be screened for prostate cancer (and other diseases) or will finding that men, too, die from undetected breast cancer cause policy makers to wake up and smell the roses? Better yet, perhaps we will only be better protected when those who sit on task forces or others who are voting on health issues stop treating health issues as some abstract phenomenon but rather as human catastrophes waiting to happen. Will it take one of their daughters not to be deemed old enough to have a mammogram or one of their mothers to be considered too old to matter before they determine that we need not become even greater victims of breast cancer? Perhaps then we will not be mere statistics but real women with blood running through our veins and reasons why we very much wish to remain alive.

Lest you think I am concerned about women only, be advised that in 2008 the task force said that men 75 and older should no longer get screened for prostate cancer and that there’s not even sufficient evidence to evaluate the costs and benefits of the screening for men under that age. Note: The American Cancer Society agrees that there is insufficient evidence for or against screening generally, but does not have a cutoff age.

The question that then remains is: Must we wait for disasters to occur? Do we not have the ability to be pro-active or the intelligence to make health and not money a priority, even in these economic times? Right now money seems to be the name of the game. And the problem is that our health is never a game!

I'd like to believe that some people will come to their senses before too many lives are lost. Hopefully, none will be people whom you love and whose lives you do not feel are disposable.

I encourage everyone – men and women – to make their voices heard and to fight tor their right to receive proper vs. expedient health care.

With best wishes to one and all for a HEALTHY and fun-filled THANKSGIVING. Thank you, also, to the readers of this blog who have voted (or are considering to vote) for me as TOP BLOGGER.

~ Linda
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