More than a half a million breast exams are performed by Planned Parenthood annually.
We’ve all heard the disturbing statistics. One in eight women will get breast cancer at some point in her life. It is the second-leading cause of cancer death among women in the United States. And breast cancer has a particularly devastating impact on women of color. African-American women have the highest rate of breast cancer among women under 45 years old, and Latinas are 20% more likely to die from breast cancer than white women.
These are more than numbers to us at Planned Parenthood because we see patients at health centers and connect with them by telephone every day. As the Breast Referral Coordinator at Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, I talk to women about abnormalities they have either discovered on their own, or that our medical staff has detected during a preventive care exam at a health centers.
Reports and statistics are important because they help Planned Parenthood provide important information during clinical examinations and educational presentations. But what they don’t reveal is the look of fear in a woman’s eyes when she finds a suspicious lump. Numbers don’t let you hear the quiver in a woman’s voice, or the way she tries to hold back tears when she’s facing the possibility of breast cancer.
At Planned Parenthood centers across the United States, we provide 550,000 breast exams every year, but we never lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with individual women’s lives. We know the woman in our exam room is someone’s daughter or best friend. Maybe she’s someone’s mother. Maybe there’s someone special waiting for her at home with tickets to a movie and her favorite meal.
I’ll never forget Chris, a thirtysomething who had been in our center a few months earlier for treatment of a urinary tract infection. She had returned because she felt a mass in her breast and was very anxious. I remember the way she kept twisting her long blond hair with her fingers. With eyes cast to the floor, she explained that she once smoked and was convinced she now had cancer because of it. I referred Chris for further testing and we were both so relieved when we learned her mass was benign.
Susan was a forty-year-old woman who came to Planned Parenthood because she felt a lump in her breast. There were several tumors throughout her body, which turned out to be lymphoma. Planned Parenthood helped Susan get the oncology care she needed and within days she was receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatment. At first, Susan didn’t think the lumps were very serious because her symptoms were new, but we encouraged and supported her in getting immediate care. Later, she called me to say thank you to Planned Parenthood for saving her life.
Planned Parenthood is a leading provider of breast health care for women in the fight to detect breast cancer early and ensure good breast health. So while we embrace Breast Cancer Awareness Month every October as an opportunity to discuss this women’s health issue, it’s important to remember that we provide breast health care every month at Planned Parenthood.