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Donna Smith

Donna Smith, American SiCKO, is executive director of the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation

May 14th, 2013 2:14 PM

My Breasts and My Life Not as Valuable as Angelina's

Angelina Jolie Bravery May Not Be Greater Than That of Other Cancer Patients

While women and men around the world applaud Angelina Jolie for her bravery in writing such a public opinion piece in the New York Times today about her preemptive double mastectomy, some of us know that our breasts and our lives just are not worth as much as hers.

The topics for discussion on every many news programs and across the web seem to be largely concentrating on the genetic testing that can now be done to watch for the mutations that may signal impending cancer and on the benefits and risks of taking the route that superstar Jolie and other prominent women have taken.  Across the globe, the news of this piece has opened discussion, like in this piece in The Guardian.  That opening of dialogue is a good thing.

But what of the women like me who do not have insurance or enough money to take the brave actions Angelina took?  Are we less brave?  We are certainly less valuable in a world that would see any celebrity's body and breasts as more worthy of attention on a daily basis much less when one of those famous souls must endure some bodily alteration through illness or by choice.  I don't argue that point here.  Angelina is a gorgeous woman and one whose talents have provided her the ability to make health choices many of the rest of the women on this earth may not make.

As a two-time cancer survivor and a woman whose father died from pancreatic cancer and whose mother has already had three rounds of breast cancer, I was once asked by my oncologist is I wanted to have some genetic counseling surrounding my cancer risks.  I said no.  I said no for a couple of reasons.  First, it seemed clear to me that my family history combined with my own cancer history already told me that I was predisposed to cancer.  No news there for me.  But secondly, even if the insurance I had at the time would have paid for the testing, I surely would have been even more labeled for the future as someone that no one wanted to insure.

Now, as I face my late 50s without any health insurance unless and until I can access it again through my employment, on the new health exchanges when they open, or hold out until I reach Medicare age, there's no way for me to take any brave or bold stance like Angelina.  I will have to be brave in prayer.  I will have to be brave in trying to mitigate the potential cancer-causing environmental and lifestyle choices that I can.  I will have to be brave in moving on with my life and trying not to wonder if each and every symptom I feel or sense is the beginning of the next cancer battle for me or the end of my life.

If we in the United States truly valued health care as a human right, and began showing it by adopting an improved and expanded Medicare for all system, at least I would know that if I developed another cancer, I could access care just like anyone else would.  No doubt the debate about genetic testing for cancer patients and what people may wish to do in response to test results will continue.  What I hope may also open up is the honest discussion about how far the Affordable Care Act and its mandates to purchase health insurance may leave us from the day when every woman's breasts are considered as worthy of the medical attention and care as any Hollywood superstar's.


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